The U.S. government has charged into another civil war in the Middle East. When you find yourself repeatedly asking, “Will they ever learn?” the answer may be that the decision-makers have no incentive to do things differently. What looks like failure may be the intended outcome. Quagmires have their benefits — to the ruling elite — if American casualties are minimized.
The Obama administration is assisting Saudi Arabia in its bombing of Yemen, creating — in concert with the Saudi embargo — a humanitarian catastrophe in the Middle East’s poorest country. Civilians are dying, and what infrastructure the country has is being destroyed.
Why? Secretary of State John Kerry says the United States won’t “stand by while the region is destabilized.” Kerry is a veteran, and presumably a student, of America’s Indochina war. So he must know that bombing is a terrible way to prevent destabilization. Kerry isn’t stupid — but that means he’s a liar and a demagogue.
Note that he says “the region,” not “Yemen.” Why would a civil war in Yemen affect the region? Because according to the official narrative, faithfully carried by most of the news media, Yemen is under siege by agents of Iran, the Houthis.
Iran today serves the same purpose the Soviet Union, or the International Communist Conspiracy, served from the end of World War II until 1989-91, when the Soviet empire collapsed. Iran is the all-purpose arch enemy on which virtually any evil can be blamed. So the war party and its Saudi and Israeli allies tell us every day that Iran is on the march, controlling capitals throughout the Middle East: Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut, and now Sana’a.
But this is absurd. Iran is not on the march. George W. Bush knowingly delivered Baghdad to Iran-friendly Iraqi Shiites in 2003. The Assad regime in Syria is a long-time Iranian ally that Obama and his first secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, declared open season on, emboldening al-Qaeda and its more-virulent mutation, ISIS. Iran’s friends in Lebanon, the political party Hezbollah, formed itself in response to Israel’s 1982 invasion and long occupation. None of these demonstrate an aggressive Iran. A better explanation is that those alliances help Iran cope with the American encirclement. (Recall: the CIA overthrew Iran’s democratic government in 1953 and was complicit in Iraq’s 1980s offensive war against Iran, in which Saddam Hussein used U.S.-facilitated chemical weapons. Since then, U.S. presidents and Israel’s government have attacked Iran in many ways: economic, cyber, proxy-terrorist, and covert.)
And what of Yemen, where the Houthis drove out the U.S.-backed autocratic president while also fighting declared enemies of the United States, Sunni al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and the Yemeni affiliate of ISIS? Yes, the Houthis practice a kind of Shiite Islam, Zaidi, but it differs importantly from Iranian Shiism. In fact, the Houthis are merely the latest manifestation of a long-oppressed Yemeni religious minority seeking autonomy from the central government. After years of being frustrated, lied to, and double-crossed, it finally moved on that government. Say what you will about the group, but don’t call it an agent of Iran.
Saudi Arabia sees Iran as a menace, but the kingdom is hardly credible, and the Obama administration is likely to be placating the royal family now that a nuclear deal with Iran may be at hand. As independent researcher Jonathan Marshall notes, “Decades before Iran became an enemy, however, Saudi Arabia began intervening in its southern neighbor [Yemen]. Besides grabbing land, the Saudis poured vast sums of money into Yemen to promote its extreme brand of Sunni Islam known as Wahhabism. In 2009, it invaded northern Yemen to attack the Houthis, unsuccessfully.”
Marshall adds, “Washington has also inserted itself in Yemen’s civil conflicts for decades.”
Of course Washington has been killing Yemenis with drones — not all of them even “suspected terrorists” — since 2001, when the corrupt and oppressive government in Sana’a became an ally in the “war on terror.”
“Yemen’s government repeatedly used U.S. military aid to support an all-out assault against the Houthis (“Operation Scorched Earth”),” Marshall writes, “causing extensive civilian casualties.”
As we should know by now, U.S. intervention is no innocent mistake.
The UN Security Council has imposes an arms embargo against the Houthi rebels in Yemen and blacklisted a Houthi leader and the
Fourteen members of the Security Council voted in favor of the resolution, Russia being the only abstention.
The Russian representative explained the move by saying that not all of Moscow’s proposals had been included in the final text drafted by Jordan and Gulf Arab states.
“The co-sponsors refused to include the requirements insisted upon by Russia addressed to all sides to the conflict to swiftly halt fire and to begin peace talks,” Russian UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told the council after the vote.
The resolution also blacklisted Houthi leader Abdel-Malek al-Houthi, as well as the son of Yemen’s former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh.
The Jordanian draft resolution was being debated alongside a separate Russian draft, which called for a “humanitarian pause” in airstrikes by the Saudi-led military coalition.
An all-inclusive arms embargo on all parties in the Yemeni conflict, suggested earlier by Russia as an amendment to the Arab draft, was rejected.
“We insisted that the arms embargo needs to be comprehensive; it’s well known that Yemen is awash in weapons,” Churkin said. “The adopted resolution should not be used for further escalation of the armed conflict.”
The Shiite Houthi rebels took control of Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, in September 2014, forcing President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi to flee to Saudi Arabia. They are now fighting for the strategic port city of Aden.
The Houthi offensive is supported by soldiers loyal to Saleh, who was forced to give up power in Yemen after a 33-year rule in 2012.
Saudi Arabia and its Sunni Arab allies have been bombing the Houthi rebels since March 25, with over 1,000 people killed since the start of the conflict.
Al-Houthi and the ex-president’s eldest son, Ahmed Ali Abdullah Saleh, will face an asset freeze and travel ban in accordance with the sanctions.
Last November, UNSC imposed the similar sanctions on former president Saleh, the rebel group’s military commander Abd al-Khaliq al-Houthi and the Houthi’s second-in-command, Abdullah Yahya al Hakim.
The resolution also urged “Member States, in particular States neighboring Yemen, to inspect … all cargo to Yemen” if they have reasonable grounds to believe it contains weapons.
The document demanded all Yemeni parties to stop fighting, especially the Houthis, who are called upon to withdraw from Sanaa and other areas they have seized.
It also blamed ex-President Saleh for “destabilizing actions” in Yemen, including supporting the Houthi uprising.
Former Washington insider and four-star General Wesley Clark spilled the beans several years ago on how Paul Wolfowitz and his neoconservative co-conspirators implemented their sweeping plan to destabilize key Middle Eastern countries once it became clear that post-Soviet Russia “won’t stop us.”
As I recently reviewed a YouTube eight-minute clip of General Clark’s October 2007 speech, what leaped out at me was that the neocons had been enabled by their assessment that – after the collapse of the Soviet Union – Russia had become neutralized and posed no deterrent to U.S. military action in the Middle East.
While Clark’s public exposé largely escaped attention in the neocon-friendly “mainstream media” (surprise, surprise!), he recounted being told by a senior general at the Pentagon shortly after the 9/11 attacks in 2001 about the Donald Rumsfeld/Paul Wolfowitz-led plan for “regime change” in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Iran.
This was startling enough, I grant you, since officially the United States presents itself as a nation that respects international law, frowns upon other powerful nations overthrowing the governments of weaker states, and – in the aftermath of World War II – condemned past aggressions by Nazi Germany and decried Soviet “subversion” of pro-U.S. nations.
But what caught my eye this time was the significance of Clark’s depiction of Wolfowitz in 1992 gloating over what he judged to be a major lesson learned from the Desert Storm attack on Iraq in 1991; namely, “the Soviets won’t stop us.”
That remark directly addresses a question that has troubled me since March 2003 when George W. Bush attacked Iraq. Would the neocons – widely known as “the crazies” at least among the remaining sane people of Washington – have been crazy enough to opt for war to re-arrange the Middle East if the Soviet Union had not fallen apart in 1991?
The question is not an idle one. Despite the debacle in Iraq and elsewhere, the neocon “crazies” still exercise huge influence in Establishment Washington. Thus, the question now becomes whether, with Russia far more stable and much stronger, the “crazies” are prepared to risk military escalation with Russia over Ukraine, what retired U.S. diplomat William R. Polk deemed a potentially dangerous nuclear confrontation, a “Cuban Missile Crisis in reverse.”
The geopolitical vacuum that enabled the neocons to try out their “regime change” scheme in the Middle East may have been what Russian President Vladimir Putin was referring to in his state-of-the-nation address on April 25, 2005, when he called the collapse of the Soviet Union “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the [past] century.” Putin’s comment has been a favorite meme of those who seek to demonize Putin by portraying him as lusting to re-establish a powerful USSR through aggression in Europe.
But, commenting two years after the Iraq invasion, Putin seemed correct at least in how the neocons exploited the absence of the Russian counterweight to over-extend American power in ways that were harmful to the world, devastating to the people at the receiving end of the neocon interventions, and even detrimental to the United States.
If one takes a step back and attempts an unbiased look at the spread of violence in the Middle East over the past quarter-century, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Putin’s comment was on the mark. With Russia a much-weakened military power in the 1990s and early 2000s, there was nothing to deter U.S. policymakers from the kind of adventurism at Russia’s soft underbelly that, in earlier years, would have carried considerable risk of armed U.S.-USSR confrontation.
I lived in the USSR during the 1970s and would not wish that kind of restrictive regime on anyone. Until it fell apart, though, it was militarily strong enough to deter Wolfowitz-style adventurism. And I will say that – for the millions of people now dead, injured or displaced by U.S. military action in the Middle East over the past dozen years – the collapse of the Soviet Union as a deterrent to U.S. war-making was not only a “geopolitical catastrophe” but an unmitigated disaster.
In his 2007 speech, General Clark related how in early 1991 he dropped in on Paul Wolfowitz, then Under Secretary of Defense for Policy (and later, from 2001 to 2005, Deputy Secretary of Defense). It was just after a major Shia uprising in Iraq in March 1991. President George H.W. Bush’s administration had provoked it, but then did nothing to rescue the Shia from brutal retaliation by Saddam Hussein, who had just survived his Persian Gulf defeat.
According to Clark, Wolfowitz said: “We should have gotten rid of Saddam Hussein. The truth is, one thing we did learn is that we can use our military in the Middle East and the Soviets won’t stop us. We’ve got about five or 10 years to clean up those old Soviet client regimes – Syria, Iran (sic), Iraq – before the next great superpower comes on to challenge us.”
It’s now been more than 10 years, of course. But do not be deceived into thinking Wolfowitz and his neocon colleagues believe they have failed in any major way. The unrest they initiated keeps mounting – in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Somalia, Lebanon – not to mention fresh violence now in full swing in Yemen and the crisis in Ukraine. Yet, the Teflon coating painted on the neocons continues to cover and protect them in the “mainstream media.”
True, one neocon disappointment is Iran. It is more stable and less isolated than before; it is playing a sophisticated role in Iraq; and it is on the verge of concluding a major nuclear agreement with the West – barring the throwing of a neocon/Israeli monkey wrench into the works to thwart it, as has been done in the past.
An earlier setback for the neocons came at the end of August 2013 when President Barack Obama decided not to let himself be mouse-trapped by the neocons into ordering U.S. forces to attack Syria. Wolfowitz et al. were on the threshold of having the U.S. formally join the war against Bashar al-Assad’s government of Syria when there was the proverbial slip between cup and lip. With the aid of the neocons’ new devil-incarnate Vladimir Putin, Obama faced them down and avoided war.
A week after it became clear that the neocons were not going to get their war in Syria, I found myself at the main CNN studio in Washington together with Paul Wolfowitz and former Sen. Joe Lieberman, another important neocon. As I reported in “How War on Syria Lost Its Way,” the scene was surreal – funereal, even, with both Wolfowitz and Lieberman very much down-in-the-mouth, behaving as though they had just watched their favorite team lose the Super Bowl.
But the neocons are nothing if not resilient. Despite their grotesque disasters, like the Iraq War, and their disappointments, like not getting their war on Syria, they neither learn lessons nor change goals. They just readjust their aim, shooting now at Putin over Ukraine as a way to clear the path again for “regime change” in Syria and Iran. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Why Neocons Seek to Destabilize Russia.”]
The neocons also can take some solace from their “success” at enflaming the Middle East with Shia and Sunni now at each other’s throats — a bad thing for many people of the world and certainly for the many innocent victims in the region, but not so bad for the neocons. After all, it is the view of Israeli leaders and their neocon bedfellows (and women) that the internecine wars among Muslims provide at least some short-term advantages for Israel as it consolidates control over the Palestinian West Bank.
In a Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity memorandum for President Obama on Sept. 6, 2013, we called attention to an uncommonly candid report about Israeli/neocon motivation, written by none other than the Israel-friendly New York Times Bureau Chief in Jerusalem Jodi Rudoren on Sept. 2, 2013, just two days after Obama took advantage of Putin’s success in persuading the Syrians to allow their chemical weapons to be destroyed and called off the planned attack on Syria, causing consternation among neocons in Washington.
Rudoren can perhaps be excused for her naïve lack of “political correctness.” She had been barely a year on the job, had very little prior experience with reporting on the Middle East, and – in the excitement about the almost-attack on Syria – she apparently forgot the strictures normally imposed on the Times’ reporting from Jerusalem. In any case, Israel’s priorities became crystal clear in what Rudoren wrote.
In her article, entitled “Israel Backs Limited Strike Against Syria,” Rudoren noted that the Israelis were arguing, quietly, that the best outcome for Syria’s (then) 2 ½-year-old civil war, at least for the moment, was no outcome:
“For Jerusalem, the status quo, horrific as it may be from a humanitarian perspective, seems preferable to either a victory by Mr. Assad’s government and his Iranian backers or a strengthening of rebel groups, increasingly dominated by Sunni jihadis.
“‘This is a playoff situation in which you need both teams to lose, but at least you don’t want one to win — we’ll settle for a tie,’ said Alon Pinkas, a former Israeli consul general in New York. ‘Let them both bleed, hemorrhage to death: that’s the strategic thinking here. As long as this lingers, there’s no real threat from Syria.’”
Clear enough? If this is the way Israel’s leaders continue to regard the situation in Syria, then they look on deeper U.S. involvement – overt or covert – as likely to ensure that there is no early resolution of the conflict there. The longer Sunni and Shia are killing each other, not only in Syria but also across the region as a whole, the safer Tel Aviv’s leaders calculate Israel is.
But Israeli leaders have also made clear that if one side must win, they would prefer the Sunni side, despite its bloody extremists from Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. In September 2013, shortly after Rudoren’s article, Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren, then a close adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, told the Jerusalem Post that Israel favored the Sunni extremists over Assad.
“The greatest danger to Israel is by the strategic arc that extends from Tehran, to Damascus to Beirut. And we saw the Assad regime as the keystone in that arc,” Oren said in an interview. “We always wanted Bashar Assad to go, we always preferred the bad guys who weren’t backed by Iran to the bad guys who were backed by Iran.” He said this was the case even if the “bad guys” were affiliated with Al-Qaeda.
In June 2014, Oren – then speaking as a former ambassador – said Israel would even prefer a victory by the Islamic State, which was massacring captured Iraqi soldiers and beheading Westerners, than the continuation of the Iranian-backed Assad in Syria. “From Israel’s perspective, if there’s got to be an evil that’s got to prevail, let the Sunni evil prevail,” Oren said.
Netanyahu sounded a similar theme in his March 3, 2015 speech to the U.S. Congress in which he trivialized the threat from the Islamic State with its “butcher knives, captured weapons and YouTube” when compared to Iran, which he accused of “gobbling up the nations” of the Middle East.
That Syria’s main ally is Iran with which it has a mutual defense treaty plays a role in Israeli calculations. Accordingly, while some Western leaders would like to achieve a realistic if imperfect settlement of the Syrian civil war, others who enjoy considerable influence in Washington would just as soon see the Assad government and the entire region bleed out.
As cynical and cruel as this strategy is, it isn’t all that hard to understand. Yet, it seems to be one of those complicated, politically charged situations well above the pay-grade of the sophomores advising President Obama – who, sad to say, are no match for the neocons in the Washington Establishment. Not to mention the Netanyahu-mesmerized Congress.
Speaking of Congress, a year after Rudoren’s report, Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tennessee, who now chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, divulged some details about the military attack that had been planned against Syria, while lamenting that it was canceled.
In doing so, Corker called Obama’s abrupt change on Aug. 31, 2013, in opting for negotiations over open war on Syria, “the worst moment in U.S. foreign policy since I’ve been here.” Following the neocon script, Corker blasted the deal (since fully implemented) with Putin and the Syrians to rid Syria of its chemical weapons.
Corker complained, “In essence – I’m sorry to be slightly rhetorical – we jumped into Putin’s lap.” A big No-No, of course – especially in Congress – to “jump into Putin’s lap” even though Obama was able to achieve the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons without the United States jumping into another Middle East war.
It would have been nice, of course, if General Clark had thought to share his inside-Pentagon information earlier with the rest of us. In no way should he be seen as a whistleblower.
At the time of his September 2007 speech, he was deep into his quixotic attempt to win the Democratic nomination for president in 2008. In other words, Clark broke the omerta code of silence observed by virtually all U.S. generals, even post-retirement, merely to put some distance between himself and the debacle in Iraq – and win some favor among anti-war Democrats. It didn’t work, so he endorsed Hillary Clinton; that didn’t work, so he endorsed Barack Obama.
Wolfowitz, typically, has landed on his feet. He is now presidential hopeful Jeb Bush’s foreign policy/defense adviser, no doubt outlining his preferred approach to the Middle East chessboard to his new boss. Does anyone know the plural of “bedlam?”
Ray McGovern works for Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He served for a total of 30 years as an Army infantry/intelligence officer and CIA analyst and is a member of the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).
The foreign policy quandary facing President Barack Obama is that America’s traditional allies in the Middle East – Israel and Saudi Arabia – along with Official Washington’s powerful neocons have effectively sided with Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State out of a belief that Iran represents a greater threat to Israeli and Saudi interests.
But what that means for U.S. interests is potentially catastrophic. If the Islamic State continues its penetration toward Damascus in league with Al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front and topples the Syrian government, the resulting slaughter of Christians, Shiites and other religious minorities – as well as the risk of a major new terrorist base in the heart of the Middle East – could force the United States into a hopeless new war that could drain the U.S. Treasury and drive the nation into a chaotic and dangerous decline.
To avoid this calamity, Obama would have to throw U.S. support fully behind the embattled regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, precipitate a break with Israel and Saudi Arabia, and withstand a chorus of condemnations from influential neocon pundits, Republican politicians and hawkish Democrats. Influenced by Israeli propaganda, all have pushed for ousting Assad in a “regime change.”
But the world has already had a grim peek at what an Islamic State/Al-Qaeda victory would look like. The Islamic State has reveled in its ability to provoke Western outrage through acts of shocking brutality, such as beheadings, incinerations, stonings, burning of ancient books and destruction of religious sites that the group deems offensive to its fundamentalist version of Islam.
Over the Easter holiday, there were reports of the Islamic State destroying a Christian Church in northeastern Syria and taking scores of Christians as prisoners. An Islamic State victory in Syria would likely mean atrocities on a massive scale. And, there are signs that Al-Qaeda might bring the Islamic State back into the fold if it achieves this success, which would let Al-Qaeda resume its plotting for its own outrages through terrorist attacks on European and U.S. targets.
Though Al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front and the Islamic State have been estranged in recent months, the groups were reported to be collaborating in an assault on the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk, south of Damascus. United Nations spokesman Chris Gunness told the Associated Press, “The situation in the camp is beyond inhumane.”
The AP also reported that “Palestinian officials and Syrian activists say the Islamic State militants fighting in Yarmouk were working with rivals from the al-Qaida affiliate in Syria, the Nusra Front. The two groups have fought bloody battles against each other in other parts of Syria, but appear to be cooperating in the attack on Yarmouk.”
Syria has become a frontline in the sectarian conflict between Sunni and Shiite Islam, with Saudi Arabia a longtime funder of the Sunni fundamentalist Wahhabism, which gave rise to Al-Qaeda under the direction of Saudi Osama bin Laden. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers in the 9/11 attacks were Saudi nationals, and elements of the Saudi royal family and other Persian Gulf sheikdoms have been identified as Al-Qaeda’s financiers. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “The Secret Saudi Ties to Terrorism.”]
The Israeli-Saudi Alliance
In seeking “regime change” in Syria, Saudi Arabia has been joined by Israel whose leaders have cited Syria as the “keystone” in the pro-Iranian Shiite “strategic arc” from Tehran through Damascus to Beirut. In making that point in September 2013, Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren told the Jerusalem Post that Israel favored the Sunni extremists over Assad and the Shiites.
“We always wanted Bashar Assad to go, we always preferred the bad guys who weren’t backed by Iran to the bad guys who were backed by Iran.” He said this was the case even if the “bad guys” were affiliated with Al-Qaeda.
In June 2014, Oren expanded on this Israeli position. Then, speaking as a former ambassador, Oren said Israel would even prefer a victory by the Islamic State. “From Israel’s perspective, if there’s got to be an evil that’s got to prevail, let the Sunni evil prevail,” Oren said.
On March 3, in the speech to a cheering U.S. Congress, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also argued that the danger from Iran was much greater than from the Islamic State (or ISIS). Netanyahu dismissed ISIS as a relatively minor annoyance with its “butcher knives, captured weapons and YouTube” when compared to Iran, which he accused of “gobbling up the nations” of the Middle East.
He claimed “Iran now dominates four Arab capitals, Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut and Sanaa. And if Iran’s aggression is left unchecked, more will surely follow. … We must all stand together to stop Iran’s march of conquest, subjugation and terror.”
Netanyahu’s rhetoric was clearly hyperbole – Iran’s troops have not invaded any country for centuries; Iran did come to the aid of the Shiite-dominated government of Iraq in its fight with the Islamic State, but the “regime change” in Baghdad was implemented not by Iran but by President George W. Bush and the U.S. military; and it’s preposterous to say that Iran “dominates” Damascus, Beirut and Sanaa – though Iran is allied with elements in Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.
But hyperbole or not, Netanyahu’s claims became marching orders for the American neocons, the Republican Party and much of the Democratic Party. Republicans and some Democrats denounced President Obama’s support for international negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program while some prominent neocons were granted space on the op-ed pages of the Washington Post and New York Times to advocate bombing Iran. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “NYT Publishes Call to Bomb Iran.”]
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia – with U.S. logistical and intelligence help – began bombing the Houthi rebels in Yemen who have been fighting a long civil war and had captured several major cities. The Houthis, who practice an offshoot of Shiite Islam called Zaydism, deny that they are proxies of Iran although some analysts say the Iranians have given some money and possibly some weapons to the Houthis.
However, by attacking the Houthis, the Saudis have helped Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula regain its footing, including creating an opportunity to free scores of Al-Qaeda militants in a prison break and expanding Al-Qaeda’s territory in the east.
Increasingly, the choice facing Obama is whether to protect the old alliances with Israel and Saudi Arabia – and risk victories by Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State – or expand on the diplomatic opening from the framework agreement on Iran’s nuclear program to side with Shiite forces as the primary bulwark against Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State.
For such a seismic shift in U.S. foreign policy, President Obama could use the help of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who assisted in brokering agreements in 2013 in which Syria’s Assad surrendered Syria’s chemical weapons and in which Iranian leaders signed an interim agreement on their nuclear program that laid the groundwork for the April 2 framework deal.
In 2013, those moves by Putin infuriated Official Washington’s neoconservatives who were quick to identify Ukraine as a possible flashpoint between the United States and Russia. With Putin and Obama both distracted by other responsibilities, neocon Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland teamed up with neocon National Endowment for Democracy President Carl Gershman and neocon Sen. John McCain to help fund and coordinate the Feb. 22, 2014 coup that ousted elected President Viktor Yanukovych. The resulting civil war and Russian intervention in Crimea drove a deep wedge between Obama and Putin.
The mainstream U.S. news media got fully behind the demonization of Putin, making a rapprochement over Ukraine nearly impossible. Though German Chancellor Angela Merkel sought to broker a settlement of the conflict in February – known as Minsk-2 – the right-wing government in charge in Kiev, reflecting Nuland’s hard-line position, sabotaged the deal by inserting a poison pill that effectively required the ethnic Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine to surrender before Kiev would conduct elections under its control. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Ukraine’s Poison Pill for Peace Talks.”]
The Kiev regime is also incorporating some of its neo-Nazi militias into the regular army while putting neo-Nazi extremists into key military advisory positions. Though the U.S. media has put on blinders so as not to notice the Swastikas and SS symbols festooning the Azov and other battalions, the reality has been that the neo-Nazis and other far-right extremists have been the fiercest fighters in killing ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Wretched US Journalism on Ukraine.”]
On Saturday, German Economic News reported that the Ukrainian army appointed right-wing extremist Dimitri Jarosch as an official adviser to the army leadership as the Kiev regime – now bolstered by U.S. military equipment and training and receiving billions of dollars in Western aid – prepares for renewed fighting with eastern Ukraine.
The problem with Obama has been that – although he himself may be a “closet realist” willing to work with adversarial countries like Iran and Russia – he has not consistently challenged the neocons and their junior partners, the liberal interventionists. The liberals are particularly susceptible to propaganda campaigns involving non-governmental organizations that claim to promote “human rights” or “democracy” but have their salaries paid by the congressionally financed and neocon-run National Endowment for Democracy or by self-interested billionaires like financier George Soros.
The effectiveness of these NGOs in using social media and other forums to demonize targeted governments, as happened in Ukraine during the winter of 2013-14, makes it hard for honest journalists and serious analysts to put these crises in perspective without endangering their careers and reputations. Over the past year, anyone who questioned the demonization of Putin was denounced as a “Putin apologist” or a “Putin bootlicker.” Thus, many people not wanting to face such slurs either went along with the propagandistic “group think” or kept quiet.
Obama is one person who knows better but hasn’t been willing to contest Official Washington’s narratives portraying Putin or Assad or the Iranians or the Houthis as the devils incarnate. Obama has generally gone with the flow, joining the condemnations, but then resisting at key moments and refusing to implement some of the most extreme neocon ideas – such as bombing the Syrian army or shipping lethal weapons to Ukraine’s right-wing regime or forsaking negotiations and bombing Iran.
Pandering to Israel and Saudi Arabia
In other words, Obama has invested huge amounts of time and energy in trying to maintain positive relations with Netanyahu and the Saudi royals while not fully joining in their regional war against Iran and other Shiite-related governments and movements. Obama understands the enormous risk of allowing Al-Qaeda or the Islamic State to gain firm control of a major Middle Eastern country.
Of course, if that happens in, say, Syria, Obama would be blamed for not overthrowing the Assad regime earlier, as if there actually was a “moderate opposition” that could have withstood the pressure of the Sunni extremists. Though the neocons and liberal interventionists have pretended that this “moderate” force existed, it was always marginal when it came to applying real power.
Whether one likes it or not, the only real force that can stop an Al-Qaeda or Islamic State victory is the Syrian army and the Assad regime. But Obama chose to play the game of demanding that “Assad must go” – to appease the neocons and liberal interventionists – while recognizing that the notion of a “moderate” alternative was never realistic.
As Obama told the New York Times Thomas L. Friedman in August 2014, the idea that the U.S. arming the “moderate” rebels would have made a difference has “always been a fantasy.” [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Behind Obama’s Chaotic Foreign Policy.”]
But Obama may be running out of time in his halfway strategy of half-heartedly addressing the real danger that lies ahead if the Islamic State and/or Al-Qaeda ride the support of Saudi Arabia and Israel to a victory in Syria or Iraq or Yemen.
If the United States has to recommit a major military force in the Middle East, the war would have little hope of succeeding but it would drain American resources – and eviscerate what’s left of the constitutional principles that founded the American Republic.
Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).
Thursday’s agreement between the P5+1 countries and Iran has been hailed as a victory for peace. Its opponents, led by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, are terrified that the agreement may lead to a more peaceful and stable Middle East in which Zionist expansionism and genocide would be unsustainable.
But the agreement is not just a step toward peace. It also represents a step toward truth. And truth, even more than peace, is what truly terrifies Netanyahu and his neoconservative allies.
The Myth of “Iran nuclear crisis”
The whole “Iran nuclear crisis” is a myth. To put it more bluntly, it is a lie. And that lie was meticulously constructed by neoconservative Zionists to serve their interests, according to their philosophy of governance, which worships big lies and views truth-speaking as dangerous to society.
In reality, there is no “Iran nuclear crisis.” Iran is not developing nuclear weapons. Both the current Leader, Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei, and his predecessor, Ayatollah Rouhollah Khomeini, have issued and repeatedly confirmed edicts that absolutely ban – on religious grounds – the development of nuclear weapons.
The American CIA and Israeli Mossad essentially acknowledge this. Both agencies have issued reports stating that there is no evidence Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons.
Claims to the contrary are fraudulent. Gareth Porter’s book Manufactured Crisis shows that the same neoconservative and Israeli networks that fabricated fake evidence of Iraqi WMD also forged phony documents purporting to show an Iranian interest in nuclear weapons. Both forgeries were designed to trick America into fighting wars for Israel.
Such swindles and forgeries are “noble lies” in the eyes of neoconservatives. Their “noble lies” about 9/11-anthrax and Iraqi WMD led to the deaths of more than a million people in Iraq and Afghanistan, the creation of many millions of refugees, the long-term poisoning of those countries with depleted uranium, the rise of the so-called Islamic State, the destruction of America’s international reputation, and a groundswell of well-justified vitriolic hatred of America and Israel all over the world. The neocon claim that the ends justify the means is preposterous in light of these facts.
If US President Obama and the other P5+1 leaders had fully faced these facts and declared them openly, it would have been a smashing victory for truth. Unfortunately, hypocrisy is the way of the world and especially the way of the West. So they are retiring the “Iranian nuclear crisis” myth quietly by pretending that their hard-won agreement has saved the world from being destroyed by (nonexistent) Iranian nuclear weapons.
The P5+1 leaders are fighting a big lie with a smaller lie – a risky strategy. By refusing to expose the false premise of an “Iranian nuclear threat,” the P5+1 leaders are leaving the door open for neocons to try to revive the myth.
In hopes of preventing such retrenchment, Obama and his realist faction of the P5+1 are firing warning shots across Netanyahu’s bow – and across the bows of Israeli assets in Congress. They have officially exposed the Israeli nuclear weapons program by declassifying US government documents showing Israel has been making and stockpiling nuclear weapons for decades, unmasking Netanyahu as the worst imaginable hypocrite. And they have exposed Congressional collusion with Netanyahu that violates US Constitutional law.
Let us briefly review the case for charging Congressional representatives with violating the Constitution of the United States. According to reports apparently leaked by the US Administration, Netanyahu spied on the negotiations and fed secret information to his stooges in Congress in an attempt to torpedo an agreement with Iran.
By accepting information classified as secret under US law, provided by a foreign (Israeli) intelligence service, as part of an effort to undermine the President’s negotiations with a foreign power (Iran), numerous pro-Israel Senators and Representatives clearly violated Article II Section 2 of the American Constitution. That section holds that the power to negotiate treaties is vested solely with the President; the Senate’s role is merely “advice and consent.” In the Federalist Papers No. 64, the framers of the Constitution explain that the purpose for reserving this power to the President is to ensure that diplomacy can be conducted in secret, so that the contents of treaties can remain secret until they are submitted to the Senate for ratification.
Collaborating with a foreign intelligence service to spy on the President’s secret negotiations in order to publicize and wreck those negotiations clearly violates Article II Section 2. And if we face the unpleasant fact that Israel is an enemy of the United States, given that it has repeatedly waged war on the US by attacking US targets and mass-murdering Americans, from the Lavon Affair of 1954 to the USS Liberty massacre of 1967 to the controlled demolitions of September 11th, 2001, we have no choice but to admit that these Congressmen are guilty of treason as well.
Would the Obama Administration really consider charging Israeli assets in Congress with violating the Constitution . . . or even treason? Might Obama even consider revealing to the American people that Israel, which has essentially stolen more than a trillion dollars from America, is not America’s friend, but its worst enemy?
Senator Diane Feinstein, a wealthy liberal Zionist close to the Obama Administration, recognizes that Netanyahu’s actions are endangering Israel. In a recent interview she said she wished Netanyahu would “contain himself” because his rash actions could “backfire.”
If Netanyahu’s out-of-control chutzpah does backfire to the point that Israel’s crimes against America are fully exposed, truth will win a resounding victory.
Unfortunately, the Zionist stranglehold on mainstream media will probably prevent “big truth” from leaking out in a big way, at least in the near term. So we truth-seekers will presumably have to content ourselves with smaller victories. One such small victory is the impending “resolution” of the phony, nonexistent, Zionist-fabricated “Iran nuclear crisis.”
Ami Ayalon, the former chief of Israel’s internal security agency Shin Bet, told Charlie Rose in a 2012 interview that Israel hoped to foster a ‘Sunni coalition’ led by Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Egypt to assail Shia Muslims of the region led by Iran.
Ayalon told Rose that, “Iran is a huge threat. We cannot live with Iran having nuclear military power. We should not accept it.”
“How much time do we have and what do we do?” the Israeli spook asked.
“[We need to create] a kind of a Sunni coalition … with Turkey, Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia… who understand that the major conflict is with Shia [Muslims] led by Iran.”
Interestingly, such a coalition has indeed formed in recent weeks with the Saudi-led bombing offensive in Yemen against the Iran-aligned Shia Houthi rebels who have seized power in the war-torn country.
Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, the UAE, Egypt and other Sunni-oriented dictatorships and Western-backed quisling regimes have formed a ‘coalition’ to stamp out the Shia rebellion in Yemen.
ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra and other extremist groups currently fighting to topple the Shia/Alawite Assad regime in Syria may also be considered part of this ‘Sunni coalition’ that Ayalon speaks of. The Wahhabi militants who have besieged Syria and who previously attacked Libya were and continue to be subsidized and supported by Washington’s regional puppets (Saudi Arabia, Qatar, UAE, Kuwait and Turkey).
In a 2014 interview with NBC’s Meet the Press, Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu argued that the US should strive to weaken both Sunnis and Shias by letting them fight each other.
In a 2013 interview with the Jerusalem Post, Israel’s former ambassador to the US, Michael Oren, revealed that Israel’s main goal was to break down the Shia alliance of Damascus, Tehran and the Lebanese Hezbollah by siding with the Wahhabist radicals of ISIS and al-Qaeda.
“The initial message about the Syrian issue was that we always wanted [President] Bashar Assad to go, we always preferred the bad guys who weren’t backed by Iran to the bad guys who were backed by Iran,” Oren said.
Reports of Israel aiding and abetting anti-Assad militants, including those of ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra, are abundant and well-founded.
Oren went on to remark with glee that the Gulf sheikhdoms have in recent years come to embrace Israel’s designs vis-a-vis Syria, Iran and even the Palestinian issue, saying:
In the last 64 years there has probably never been a greater confluence of interest between us and several Gulf States. With these Gulf States we have agreements on Syria, on Egypt, on the Palestinian issue. We certainly have agreements on Iran. This is one of those opportunities presented by the Arab Spring.
Ayalon’s admission confirms what many suspect is an Israeli-led divide and conquer strategy where Israel and the West are using Sunni and Wahhabi zealots, useful idiots, and sell-outs to do the bidding of the Zionist regime.
Copyright 2015 Non-Aligned Media
A family of nine has been killed in an airstrike on a Yemeni village near Sanaa, residents report. Five others have been wounded, while several others remained trapped under rubble, according to Yemeni media.
The strike, which on Friday evening hit the Okash village – just a few miles away from a military base outside the capital – killed two men, a woman, and six children, Reuters reported, citing residents.
The state news agency Saba posted a picture on its website showing three children lying next to each other with pieces of paper with the date April 3, 2015 written on them. However, the authenticity of photo has not yet been verified.
A Saudi-led military coalition began launching airstrikes against Yemen’s Houthi rebels last week. The operation intends to bring ousted President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi back into power and prevent the Houthi militants and backers of Hadi’s predecessor Ali Abdullah Saleh from gaining full control of the country.
In Aden, a southern port city which has seen the fiercest clashes in the country, medics say that fighting has left at least 185 people dead and more than 1200 wounded since the violence sharply escalated last week. Aden had been one of the loyalists’ few remaining footholds in the country, where Hadi had been holing up after being forced out of the capital by the Houthis in February. Hadi fled the country for Riyadh last week.
The head of Aden’s health department Al-Khader Lassouar told AFP that three-quarters of the casualties were civilians, adding that the actual death toll is likely much higher as the Houthis and their allies do not take their causalities to public hospitals.
Lassouar also called for international aid organizations and Arab States to provide emergency medical supplies to Aden’s hospitals.
“Medicine stocks are exhausted and hospitals can no longer cope with the increasing number of victims,” he said.
International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) representative Sitara Jabeen told RT that the organization is making breakthroughs in negotiations for a 24 hour in order to get aid into the country.
“We are now waiting for a formal greenlights. We hope that by tomorrow we will be able to send our supplies and our personnel to Yemen,” she said Saturday. She emphasized that the organization was talking to all parties in the conflict.
Earlier, the ICRC released a statement calling for an immediate 24-hour humanitarian pause in hostilities.
“All air, land and sea routes must be opened without delay for at least 24 hours to enable help to reach people cut off after more than a week of intense air strikes and fierce ground fighting nationwide,” the ICRC said in a statement on Saturday.
Three shipments of aid and medical staff from the ICRC had been blocked for several days because of both the Saudi-led aerial bombardment as well as intense clashes on the ground between Yemen’s rivaling factions.
Several boats and planes containing over 48 tons of medical supplies are awaiting security clearance to leave for Yemen. A four-person surgical team is also on stand-by in Djibouti waiting to be dispatched to Aden by boat.
By John Chuckman | Aletho News | April 2, 2015
If you really want to understand the world in which we live – its endless wars, coups, interventions, and brutality towards great masses of people – you need to start with a correct understanding of the political machinery at work. Talk of liberal interventions or fighting for rights, Western values, and democracy are hopelessly naïve and mostly deliberately deceptive. America’s record in such matters is one of securing everything from bananas, copper, and crude oil concessions to, at the very least, foreign governments obedient to its mandates after removing a disliked leader, whether elected or not. There is no concern for principles outside of their being featured in blowhard, insincere political speeches. The interests of America’s government do not match the interests of ordinary people, those in America or anywhere else, and, were the informed consent of the governed genuinely involved in launching bloody adventures, they likely never would happen.
The underlying reality of how people in the West are governed now compared to hundreds of years ago is surprisingly unchanged, much the way the rules governing how chemical bonds form have not changed despite a long and great parade of events and discoveries in the visible world. Despite all the revolts, revolutions, congresses, constitutions, and great movements over the centuries, we are in fact governed in the same essential way people were.
Of course to see this, you have to strip away the forms and rituals we have constructed over the centuries, forms and rituals which create impressive effects much like the green smoke and thunderous voice of the Wizard of Oz, a wizened old man who worked from his curtained control room, pulling levers and hitting buttons to create intimidating effects. Most Americans remain impressed with the smoke and thunder and cheap magic tricks, it requiring some dedicated effort to shake off well-done illusions, and, as I’ve written before, Americans work extremely hard in their jobs or live a kind of marginal life trying to scrape by on low wages or part-time work, either of which situations leaves little time or inclination to question what government is really doing and for whose benefit.
And so long as America remains under the rule of wealth, it is unlikely other states, as in Western Europe, will emerge from it because America’s establishment has such decisive influence – economic, financial, military, and political – over many of them.
What is considered as wealth changes over time and with economic development, and with those changes so do its interests as well as the practices of its power. Great deposits of copper ore or crude oil In the Middle Ages were virtually worthless. Wealth then was land for agriculture, forestry, and hunting, with the family names of owners determined by their estates. The revenue from that natural wealth was converted to great houses and jewels and the implements of war. War, too, was a source of wealth with most wars being little more than adventures for dominance and looting on a grand scale. Again, as in our own day, they were dressed up with slogans about principles or causes which had almost no meaning. The case of the “Christian” Crusades, which continued their pillaging and orgy of killing, on and off, for centuries, springs to mind. Soldiers and sailors, up until modern times, were not motivated by their paltry pay and poor supplies, it being understood as a condition of employment that they would enjoy a share of the bounty looted in any campaign.
Today, the forms of wealth are as diverse and complex as is our society, and many of them are not apparent to ordinary people in the way great estates and hunting rights and obligations in war and peace to great lords were apparent in 800. Even as late as, say, 1850, wealth in the form of belching factories employing armies of people was often still quite apparent, but today’s complex banking and securities and financial institutions are not well understood by most people, although they represent immense wealth just as real in its demands and power as estates and obligations of the 9th century. Wealth today also comes from huge global manufacturing concerns of every description often with operations scattered out of sight, great shipping and transportation fleets, or electronic and communications empires. Land itself remains an important form of wealth where it can produce industrial-scale crops or contains deposits of valuable minerals or can generate flows of electricity or has been developed into great cities or resorts. War remains a source of wealth, only on a scale which could not have been imagined a few hundred years ago, but the spoils no longer go to soldiers in professional armies, they go to those responsible for the war, often in forms not easily recognized, as with special rights and concessions and secret arrangements.
As the nature of wealth evolved from the Middle Ages to the Modern Era, outward forms and rituals of government also changed. We have moved from the near-absolute power of kings and autocrats through aristocracies and republics with senates to a great variety of forms, parliaments and congresses, which appear designed to yield, to one degree or another, the consent of the governed.
But appearances, as in the case of the Wizard of Oz, can be deceiving.
Today, a single wealthy individual cannot make the kind of demands upon ordinary people that marked arrangements in the Middle Ages – although that must be qualified as I’m sure anyone who has become involved in a dispute with a wealthy neighbor or a great corporation will be happy to explain – but the class of wealthy people can indeed make just such demands, and they do so all the time. You will be taxed to pay for the schemes that their lobbying establishes, your water and air will contain the pollution of their manufacturing and mining, your children will be sent to kill and die in their wars, the ethics or morals you were taught as a child will be trampled upon, and virtually all important legislation will deal with the rights and interests of wealth, and not those of the broad mass of people.
In America, once in four years you will be asked to choose between two names, both of which have been closely vetted by the powers that be, to elect as head of government. Not only have they been vetted, but the immense costs of their campaigns in reaching you on television, at rallies, and with opinion polls to regularly fine tune their words will be paid almost exclusively by those whose real interests are at stake in every major election, the wealthy and their important serving institutions of government. The end effect is not really all that different than the old single-candidate Soviet elections at which the press trained Americans to sneer.
Many of America’s founding fathers had dark suspicions about the existence of wealth being secure in the presence of democratic government, and that is why they created forms – mostly adapted from Britain, a place no one regarded as a democracy then – to keep wealth safe. Over a couple of centuries, the original arrangements were modified, the country moving from a tiny one percent or so privileged voters – for perspective, that’s roughly the same as the percent of voters in China’s Communist Party deciding who rules the country – to something approaching universal suffrage, but always arrangements were made to safeguard wealth against the assumed predations of democracy.
In elections for the American Senate, the legislative body with real power, authority, and privilege, you again will be asked to choose between two well-vetted and well-connected candidates. Others may run, but they will be rendered helpless by the vetted candidates’ flood of money and resources, you will never hear their voices, and America’s press – itself an empire of wealth serving wealth – will waste no time on their views. In the case of the Senate, you will be asked once in six years to vote, with the elections staggered so that only one-third of that body faces election at any time – a perfectly-conceived formula for keeping the old bunch in charge despite issues which might have generated election discontent. In fact, you can never “throw the bums out” in America. Anyway, there really isn’t much risk for Senators running for re-election, with incumbents winning about 95% of the time. Senate seats are so secure they sometimes become family sinecures, handed down from father to son. After the election, unless you live in a small-population, insignificant state, you will never see or meet your Senator, and you will certainly have no opportunity to lobby. Virtually all seeing, meeting, and lobbying will be done by the wealthy sponsors of the successful candidates or by their hired help.
The average American Senator is said to spend two-thirds of his or her time securing funds for the next election, and such elections have now been bid-up to unbelievable amounts of money. The huge costs serve as what economists call “a barrier to entry,” a kind of high financial wall which keeps others from entering the political market, or, if somehow they do manage to enter, keeps them from effectively competing. Only the other wealth-vetted and connected candidate will have any hope of collecting a big enough pot of money to threaten an incumbent. The belief that people giving millions of dollars to candidates expect nothing in return is not even worth discussing. What they get – apart from goodies like important and prestigious appointments or valuable government contracts – is access, and access is exactly what most people never enjoy. Intimate access to politicians in high office, people always mindful of the necessity for another overflowing campaign war chest, is genuine power.
It is not impossible to have compatibility between democracy and wealth, but it requires a set of laws and regulations concerned with campaign financing, lobbying, and dis-establishing a political duopoly of two privileged parties, laws which simply cannot happen in America over our lifetimes. In America, law makes corporations persons, and the highest court, packed by judges appointed to serve wealth’s interests, has ruled that campaign money is free speech. These are not things easily turned around.
The American system of campaign financing not only assures the secure power of domestic wealth, it assures also the influence of wealthy lobbies serving the interests of foreign states, Israel being the most outstanding example. Other foreign states also exploit this system to varying degrees, but no other state has more than five million American citizens in great part keen to serve its interests. And many of them are successful, affluent, and well-placed people enjoying a connected set of organizations and well-funded lobbies. Other foreign states also do not enjoy having many of their lobbyists in America being dual-citizens, free to move back and forth between the country being lobbied and the country being lobbied for, surely an ethical issue for politics and foreign affairs of the first magnitude. It is a unique situation in many respects, and it has helped create a unique set of problems in the world.
The wealthy interests of America happen to share some important interests with lobbyists for Israel, including securing [or limiting competition to] the Western world’s supply of energy and not permitting the rise of states of any power in the Middle East who disagree with America’s essential views. It is important to keep in mind that “America’s essential views” are not necessarily the views of most of the American people and that many of those “essential views” have never received genuine informed consent. Elections conducted the way America’s high-level elections are conducted are incapable of bestowing meaningful consent, especially in vitally important matters.
The Israeli-American alliance is something of an unholy one because in binding America so closely to Israel, some huge and unresolvable conflicts have been created. Israel is associated with a long series of wars and abuses in the region, and, ipso facto, so is America. Israel, given the nature of its founding, expansion, and practices, is not liked by any neighboring states, although many now cooperate secretly, and sometimes even openly, in areas of mutual interest and have learned to tolerate its existence, the way generally eased by large American bribes or equally large American threats.
Traditionally, states in the Middle East are not democracies. Their often short histories have given limited opportunity for wide-spread development and prosperity creating a strong middle-class, the sine qua non for democracy. With the United States always (insincerely) praising democracy – including Israel’s grotesque contradiction of “democracy for some but not others” – it has been caught in a bind between supporting what it says it opposes and opposing what it says it supports.
Its proposed solution was a huge CIA project, nick-named “the Arab Spring” by America’s wealth-serving and often dishonest press, a set of manufactured uprisings intended to bring a semblance of democracy to the region. It has been largely a failure, ending with some countries trapped in chaos or civil war and others, notably Egypt, briefly gaining a government Israel hated intensely, the truth being that genuine democracy in virtually any of these countries will not be friendly to Israel’s geopolitical ambitions in the region nor to those of its American promoter and protector. While the “Arab Spring” was allowed to proceed in some states, in others, where it was neither intended nor desired, such as Saudi Arabia or Bahrain, spill-over effects were deliberately and violently suppressed with American assistance. So the American-Israeli relationship now still locks the United States effectively in fighting against democracy in some countries and in supporting absolute monarchs and oligarchs in others, while in still others, such as Syria and Iraq, it is involved literally in smashing them as states, in violation of all international law and long-term good sense.
The entire situation is an ongoing disaster and is almost certainly not sustainable over the long term. How do you insist a huge country like Egypt remain a backwater without democratic rights indefinitely? How can you justify the destruction of an ancient and beautiful country like Syria? How can you justify supporting absolute monarchs and keeping their people in total political darkness? How do you continue supporting Israel in its abuse of millions, depriving them of every human right, or in its constant aggression to secure its hegemony? The drive for regional hegemony is all that is behind Israel’s constant hectoring of Iran, and how is that behavior different to the aggressive wars condemned by the Nuremburg Tribunal? It’s not, of course. Further, destructive, deliberately-induced conflicts like that in Syria, by degrading its economic advance, only slow the day for democracy’s having a real chance to emerge.
So here is America, self-proclaimed land of the free, mired in a vast situation where it works to suppress democracy, supports tyrants, and supports aggressive war because its leaders, with no genuine consent of the governed, have put it there, and this is just one of many unhealthy and destructive consequences of wealth’s rule in the United States. Wealth has no inherent interest in democracy, and it is entirely up to a people anywhere to demand respect for democracy through laws.
Has the Bani Saud made one mistake too many by attacking Yemen? If the conflict drags on, it is likely to bring down the Najdi Bedouins’ sand castles.
It is easy to start a war but difficult to determine its direction, outcome or how to end it. Ask any general and he would confirm that the best prepared plans are made redundant as soon as the first shots are fired. The “Saudi” regime has just made a strategic blunder by attacking dirt-poor Yemen. In fact, the war is launched against the Houthi militia that has made impressive gains in recent weeks and months in the war-torn country. And true to form, the bedouins from Najd, calling themselves “Saudis,” have mobilized a so-called “coalition of the willing” that includes such great warriors as the Kuwaitis, Qataris, Bahrainis, and Emiratis. The Yemenis must be trembling in their sandals. In their quest to act as regional cop, the “Saudis” have also obtained the services of such basket cases as Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, Sudan and Pakistan.
The “Saudi” war on Yemen is both illegal and immoral. It is naked aggression against another country launched on false pretence. The “Saudi” regime has never fired a single shot against the Zionist occupiers of Palestine, for instance, but it has always been quick to attack Muslims. The “Saudi” regime is hiding behind the excuse that the “legitimate government” in Yemen asked for help. The Najdi bedouins do not have legitimacy in the Arabian Peninsula so how can they claim to be supporting a “legitimate government” elsewhere? The supposed head of that so-called legitimate government — Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi — had already fled the country before the “Saudis” launched their air strikes killing scores of innocent civilians. These constitute war crimes and the “Saudi” rulers could be hauled before a court of law for their criminal conduct.
Beyond legality lie other unpleasant truths. The “Saudi” army is made up of amateurs. They have seldom if ever participated in any real battle. The regime has traditionally relied on creating sectarian fitnah — its principal mode of operation — and hiring mercenaries from other countries. The sectarian fitnah may not work in Yemen as successfully as it has in some other places because there are many Sunni groups fighting against the illegitimate regime of Hadi, in addition to the Houthis, the main revolutionary force in Yemen, who just happen to be Zaydi Shi‘is. How would the “Saudis” justify their sectarian charge against Ali Abdullah Saleh, the former president, who is “Sunni”? He was forced to resign in February 2012 under pressure from then King Abdullah of “Saudi” Arabia. Besides, the Houthis are now seen by most Yemenis as champions of the country’s independence, defending it against foreign aggression.
There appear to be two factors at work in the Najdi bedouins’ decision to attack Yemen. First, they are in panic mode given their failures on multiple fronts — Syria, Iraq, etc., where they have unleashed the takfiri beheaders and liver-eaters. While these monsters have caused immense suffering and even occupied some territory, they have failed in their primary objective of overthrowing the government in either. Second, the younger members of the ruling dynasty — Muhammad bin Nayef and Muhammad bin Salman — want to prove their macho credentials. The former was appointed Deputy Crown Prince after the death of King Abdullah in January. He was already the country’s interior minister, essentially Mr. Security for the Kingdom, and has earned notoriety for his brutal ways. The latter was appointed defence minister by his father when he became king following Abdullah’s death. Perhaps the two young “royals” have become intoxicated by the shiny American-made weapons their forces possess. What they have failed to realize is that it is not the gun but the man behind the gun that matters. The “Saudis” may be notorious for cruelty but they have no valour.
Many examples of the folly of relying on weapons are available. The US conduct of war in different locales offers sobering lessons. Who would have thought that despite their sophisticated weaponry, the Americans would suffer such an ignominious defeat in Afghanistan? The Hindu Kush mountains have once again proved to be the graveyard of empires. For nearly 40 years, the Afghans have known nothing but war and parts of the country are so poor that the Stone Age would feel like modernity. Yet, these so-called primitive people have not only endured more than a decade of American military aggression — the self-proclaimed superpower — but also 40 of its allies. Each and every one of America’s allies has slunk out of the country not daring to look back. The Americans, too, are about to slink out. Nor have the Americans given any better account in Iraq, or indeed in Vietnam five decades ago. While we may deride the Americans’ lack of valour, the “Saudis” lag far behind.
Beyond their fighting skills, or lack thereof, there are other factors that are equally revealing. The “Saudis” have made no secret that they attacked Yemen to protect “Arab” interests. Their mask of Islamicity is off by their own words and deeds. Committed Muslims have never had any illusions about the true nature of this regime whose entire record is one of treachery and betrayal of Islam. Those Muslims in their innocence or ignorance who fell for the Najdi bedouins’ propaganda that the ruler of the Kingdom is “Khadim al-Haramayn” (caretaker of the Two Holy Masjids) and serving the cause of Islam should now disabuse their minds of this myth because they are Khadim al-Mufsidayn (America and Israel).
Their Islamic credentials were always suspect. Further, few in the Muslim world adhere to the narrow literalist interpretations of Wahhabism. The regime has used its huge wealth to buy loyalty — according to one estimate, nearly $100 billion have been spent since 1975 to rope in individuals, groups and organizations to its side. While they may not have become Wahhabis, such people are coerced into silence about Saudi misdemeanours. Who would like to see their bakhshish stopped when life for most in the Muslim world is so difficult?
While the Najdi clowns cannot defeat the Houthis by bombardment from the air, should they make the mistake of sending in their ground troops, they would probably seal their fate. The Houthis would make minced meat of “Saudi” soldiers or any other mercenary forces from equally repressive Arabian regimes, be they Egyptian or Jordanian. Perhaps, revolutionary Muslims should pray that the Najdi bedouins make the mistake of blundering into launching a ground invasion of Yemen. That would perhaps hasten the end of this decrepit regime that has been the bane of Muslims for decades. The bedouins from Najd may have dug their own grave.
There is media confusion about what is going on in Yemen and the broader Middle East. Pundits are pointing out that the US is looking schizophrenic with policies that back opposite sides of the fight against al-Qaeda-style extremism in Iraq and in Yemen.
But it isn’t that hard to understand the divergent policies once you comprehend the underlying drivers of the fight brewing in the region.
No, it isn’t a battle between Shia and Sunni, Iranian and Arab or the much-ballyhooed Iran-Saudi stand-off. Yes, these narratives have played a part in defining ‘sides,’ but often only in the most simplistic fashion, to rally constituencies behind a policy objective. And they do often reflect some truth.
But the ‘sides’ demarcated for our consumption do not explain, for instance, why Oman or Algeria refuse to participate, why Turkey is where it is, why Russia, China and the BRICS are participants, why the US is so conflicted in its direction – and why, in a number of regional conflicts, Sunni, Shia, Islamist, secularist, liberal, conservative, Christian, Muslim, Arab and Iranian sometimes find themselves on the same side.
This is not just a regional fight – it is a global one with ramifications that go well beyond the Middle East. The region is quite simply the theatre where it is coming to a head. And Yemen, Syria and Iraq are merely the tinderboxes that may or may not set off the conflagration.
“The battle, at its very essence, in its lowest common denominator, is a war between a colonial past and a post-colonial future.”
For the sake of clarity, let’s call these two axes the Neo-Colonial Axis and the Post-Colonial Axis. The former seeks to maintain the status quo of the past century; the latter strives to shrug off old orders and carve out new, independent directions.
If you look at the regional chessboard, the Middle East is plump with governments and monarchies backed to the hilt by the United States, Britain and France. These are the West’s “proxies” and they have not advanced their countries in the least – neither in self-sufficiencies nor in genuine democratic or developmental milestones. Indebted to ‘Empire’s’ patronage, these states form the regional arm of the Neo-Colonial Axis.
On the other side of the Mideast’s geopolitical fault line, Iran has set the standard for the Post-Colonial Axis – often referred to as the ‘Resistance Axis.’ Based on the inherent anti-imperialist worldview of the 1979 Islamic revolution, and also as a result of US/UK-driven isolating sanctions and global politics, Tehran has bucked the system by creating an indigenous system of governance, advancing its developmental ambitions and crafting alliances that challenge the status quo.
Iran’s staunchest allies have typically included Syria, Hezbollah and a handful of Palestinian resistance groups. But today, in the aftermath of the Arab Spring counter-revolutions – and the sheer havoc these have created – other independent players have discovered commonalities with the Resistance Axis. In the region, these include Iraq, Algeria and Oman. While outside the Mideast, we have seen Russia, China and other non-aligned nations step in to challenge the Neo-Colonial order.
Neo-Colonial Axis hits an Arab Spring wall
Today, the Neo-Colonials simply can’t win. They lack two essential components to maintain their hegemony: economy and common objectives.
Nowhere is that more clear than in the Middle East, where numerous initiatives and coalitions have floundered shortly after inception.
Once Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown in Libya, all parties went their own way and the country fractured. In Egypt, a power struggle pitted Sunni against Sunni, highlighting the growing schism between two Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) patrons Saudi Arabia and Qatar. In Syria, a heavyweight line-up of Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, France, the US and UK could not pull together a coherent regime-change plan or back the same horse.
In the vacuum created by these competing agendas, highly-organized al-Qaeda-style extremists stepped in to create further divergence among old allies.
Western hegemons – the original colonials and imperialists – grew fatigued, alarmed, and sought a way out of the increasingly dangerous quagmire. To do so, they needed to strike a compromise with the one regional state that enjoyed the necessary stability and military prowess to lead the fight against extremism from within the region. That would be their old adversary, Iran.
But the West is geographically distant from the Mideast, and can take these losses to a certain extent. For regional hegemons, however, the retreat of their Western patrons was anathema. As we can see, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar have recently rushed to resolve their differences so they can continue to design the region’s direction in this Western vacuum.
These counter-revolutionary states, however, share grandiose visions of their own regional influence – each ultimately only keen to achieve their own primacy. And the continued ascendance of Iran has really grated: the Islamic Republic seems to have moved from strength to strength during this ‘Arab Spring,’ picking up new allies – regional and global – and consolidating its gains.
For Saudi Arabia, in particular, Iran’s incremental victories go beyond the pale. Riyadh has, after all, staked its regional leadership role on a sectarian and ethnic divide, representing Arab and Sunni stakeholders against “Iranian” and “Shiite” ones. Now suddenly, not only are the Americans, British and French dallying with the Iranians, but the GCC itself has been split down the center over the issue of ‘engagement vs. confrontation’ with the Islamic Republic.
Worse yet, the Saudi efforts to participate in the overthrow of Gaddafi, squash uprisings in Bahrain, control political outcomes in Yemen, destabilize Syria, divide Iraq and conquer Egypt seem to have come to naught.
In all instances, they have yet to see cemented, meaningful gains – and each quagmire threatens to unravel further and deplete ever more Saudi funds
Today, the Saudis find themselves surrounded by the sickly fruits of their various regional interventions. They have endured recent attacks by violent extremists on their Iraqi and Jordanian borders – many of these recipients of past Saudi funding – and now find themselves challenged on a third border, in Yemen, by a determined constituency that seeks to halt Saudi interventions.
Beyond that, Syria and Lebanon have slipped out of Riyadh’s grip, little Qatar seeks to usurp the traditional Saudi role in the Persian Gulf, Egypt dallies with Russia and China, and Pakistan and Turkey continue a meaningful engagement with Iran.
Meanwhile, the Iranians don’t have to do much of anything to raise the Saudi ire. Iran has stepped up its regional role largely because of the Saudi-led counter-revolution, and has cautiously thwarted Riyadh’s onslaughts where it could. It has buoyed allies – much like NATO or the GCC would in similar circumstances – but with considerably less aggression and while cleaving to the letter of international law.
The Saudis see Iranian hands everywhere in the region, but this is a fantasy at best. Iran has simply stepped into an opportunity when it arises, met the threats coming its way, and utilized all its available channels to blunt the Saudi advances in various military and political theaters.
Even the US intelligence community’s annual security assessment – a report card that regularly highlights the “Iranian threat” – concludes in 2015 that the Islamic Republic of Iran has “intentions to dampen sectarianism, build responsive partners, and deescalate tensions with Saudi Arabia.”
Yet all we hear these days blaring from Western and Arab media headlines is “Shia sectarianism, Iranian expansionism and Persian Empire.”
Tellingly, the American intelligence assessment launches its section on “terrorism” with the following: “Sunni violent extremists are gaining momentum and the number of Sunni violent extremist groups, members, and safe havens is greater than at any other point in history.”
And US officials admit: many of these Sunni extremists have been assisted and financed by none other than Washington allies Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar.
The Yemeni theater – a final battleground?
A senior official within a Resistance Axis state tells me: “The biggest mistake the Saudis made is to attack Yemen. I didn’t think they were that stupid.”
In the past week, the Saudis have cobbled together yet another Neo-Colonial ‘coalition’ – this time to punish Yemenis for ousting their made-in-Riyadh transitional government and pushing into the southern city of Aden.
The main Saudi adversaries are the Houthis, a group of northern, rural highlanders who have amassed a popular base throughout the north and other parts of Yemen over the course of ten years and six wars.
The Saudis (and the US) identify the Houthis as ‘Shiites’ and ‘Iranian-backed’ in order to galvanize their own bases in the region. But Iran has had little to do with the Houthis since their emergence as a political force in Yemen. And WikiLeaks showed us that US officials know this too. A 2009 cable from the US Embassy in Riyadh notes that Yemen’s former Saudi-backed President Ali Abdullah Saleh provided “false or exaggerated information on Iranian assistance to the Houthis in order to enlist direct Saudi involvement and regionalize the conflict.”
And allegations that Iran arms the Houthis also fall flat. Another secret cable makes clear: “Contrary to ROYG (Republic of Yemen Government) claims that Iran is arming the Houthis, most local political analysts report that the Houthis obtain their weapons from the Yemeni black market and even from the ROYG military itself.”
Saleh was deposed in 2011 as a result of Arab Spring pressures, and in a twist worthy of the complicated Middle East, the wily former president now appears to be backing his former adversaries, the Houthis, against his old patrons, the Saudis.
The Houthis are adherents of the Muslim Zaydi sect – which falls somewhere between Sunnism and Shiism, and is followed by around 40 percent of Yemenis. Saleh, who fought the Houthis in half a dozen wars, is also a Zaydi – evidence that Yemen’s internal strife is anything but sectarian.
In fact, it could be argued that the Houthi – or Ansarallah movement – are a central constituency of Yemen’s ‘Arab Spring.’ Their demands since 2003 have, after all, largely been about ending disenfranchisement, gaining economic, political and religious rights, eliminating corruption, railing against the twin evils of America and Israel (a popular Post-Colonial Arab sentiment), and becoming stakeholders in the state.
To ensure the balance continued in their favor during the Arab Spring, the Neo-Colonial Axis installed a puppet transitional leader upon Saleh’s departure – an unelected president whose term ran out a year ago.
Then a few months ago, the Houthis – allegedly with the support of Saleh and his tens of thousands of followers – ousted their rivals in the puppet regime and took over the Yemeni capital, Sana’a. When the Saudis threatened retaliation, the Houthis pushed further southward… which brings us to the war front amassing against Yemen today.
This is not a battle the Saudis and their Neo-Colonial Axis can win. Airstrikes alone cannot turn this war, and it is unlikely that Riyadh and its coalition partners can expect troops on the ground to be any more successful – if they are even deployed.
The Houthis have learned over the past decade to fight both conventional and guerilla wars. This relatively small band of highlanders managed in 2009 to push 30 kilometers into Saudi territory and take over several dozen Saudi towns. When coalition-partner Egypt last fought a war with ground troops in Yemen, it became Gamal Abdel Nasser’s ‘Vietnam’ and nearly bankrupted the state.
Even majority-Sunni Pakistan, a traditional pipeline for staffing GCC armies, seems wary about this conflict. It too is fighting elsewhere on the same side as the Houthis, Iranians, Syrians, Iraqis – against violent Sunni extremists inside its borders and from their bases in neighboring Afghanistan. No amount of Saudi money will quench the anger of militant-weary Pakistanis if their government commits to this Yemeni fight – against the very groups (Houthis) that are battling al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).
And, yes, it is ironic that the United States is now providing assistance and intelligence for the Saudi-led coalition – against the Houthis, who are fighting al-Qaeda.
But as mentioned earlier, this is not Washington’s neighborhood, and it does not approach this fight with the same goals of its close ally, Saudi Arabia.
The Resistance Axis official explains:
“The Americans see all outcomes as good: If the Houthis win, they will help get rid of al-Qaeda in Yemen. If the Saudis win, well, these are still the US’s allies. And if both sides enter a protracted war, that is “not a problem either,” referring to the ever-present US interest of selling weapons in conflict zones.
Despite a global ban, the United States has sold the Saudis $640 million worth of cluster bombs over the past two years, some of which have been used to carpet bomb parts of Yemen in the past few days. The cluster munitions were part of an overall $67 billion worth of arm deals with Saudi Arabia since the Arab uprisings kicked off in 2011.
The Iranians, meanwhile, are not doing much of anything, except insisting – like the Russians and others – that the bombardment of Yemen is criminal and that Yemenis need to solve their own problems via an internal dialogue.
And why should they make any moves? The Saudis are digging their own graves right now – and hastening the demise of the entire Neo-Colonial project in the Middle East, to boot.
“Tehran realizes that the fact that Riyadh had to bring together a major coalition to fight a group that is only on the outskirts of Iranian influence is a victory in itself,” says the US-based, conservative risk-analysis group, Stratfor.
Riyadh’s move to attack Yemen has just dragged the not-so-financially-flush Kingdom into yet another military quagmire, and this time directly, bypassing proxies altogether. Every airstrike in Yemen – and it is clear in the first few days that dozens of civilians, including children, have been killed – threatens to draw more adherents to the Houthi cause.
And every day that the Houthis are tied up in this battle, AQAP gets an opportunity to cement its hold elsewhere in the country. The net winner in this conflict is unlikely to be Saudi Arabia, but it may just be al-Qaeda – which is guaranteed to draw the Post-Colonial Axis into the strategically vital waterways surrounding Yemen.
The Arab League, under Saudi Arabia’s arm-twisting, just upped the ante by demanding that only a complete Houthi surrender (laying down weapons and withdrawing) would end the airstrikes. This ultimatum leaves very little room to jumpstart dialogue, and shows shocking disregard for the normal goals of military engagement, which try to leave ‘negotiation windows’ open.
It may be that the Saudis, who have rapidly lost influence and control in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Oman, and other states in the past few years, have decided to go to the wall in Yemen.
Or it may just be some posturing to create momentum and bolster bruised egos.
But conflict has a way of balancing itself out – as in Syria and Iraq – by drawing other, unforeseen elements into the fray. With all the conflicts raging in the Middle East and encroaching on their borders, the Post-Colonial Axis has been forced to take a stand. And they bring to the field something their adversaries lack: common objectives and efficiency.
This is possibly the first time in the modern Mideast we have seen this kind of efficiency from within. And I speak specifically of Iran and its allies, both regional and external. They cannot ignore the threats that emanate from conflict, any more than the west can ignore the jihadi genie that threatens from thousands of miles away. So this Post-Colonial Axis moves further into the region to protect itself, bringing with it lessons learned and laser-focused common goals.
The Neo-Colonials will hit a wall in Yemen, just as they have in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere. Their disparate objectives will ensure that. The main concern as we enter yet another storm in Yemen is whether a flailing Empire will turn ugly at the eleventh hour and launch a direct war against its actual adversary, the Post-Colonial Axis. The Saudis are a real wild card – as are the Israelis – and may try to light that fuse. When the threat is existential, anything goes.
Yes, a regional war is as much a possibility over Yemen as it was over Syria. But this battle lies on a direct border of Saudi Arabia – ground zero for both violent extremism and the most virulently sectarian and ethnocentric elements of the anti-Resistance crowd – and so promises to deliver yet another decisive geopolitical shift in the Mideast. From Yemen, as from any confrontation between the two global blocs, a new regional reality is likely to emerge: what the Americans might call “the birth pangs of a new Middle East.”
And Yemen may yet become the next Arab state to enter a Post-Colonial order.
Sharmine Narwani is a commentator and analyst of Middle East geopolitics. She tweets @snarwani
Yemen’s ousted officials have requested a ground intervention to bolster a Saudi-led air offensive against the country’s Houthi rebels. Meanwhile, neighboring Iran has made calls for diplomacy, saying the military campaign is a “strategic mistake”.
Saudi authorities say they have gathered troops along the border with Yemen in preparation for any possible ground offensive, Reuters reported on Tuesday, adding that no exact time to send the troops in has yet been stipulated. Pakistan, which has previously supported Riyadh by deploying troops to Saudi Arabia to provide extra regional security, also said that it is sending troops to support Saudi Arabia in the context of the current Yemeni conflict, the agency reported.
Despite airstrikes delivered by Saudi air forces and their Gulf allies, the Houthis are continuing their offensive against the dwindling loyalists of President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi. Hadi was ousted by the rebels and fled to Saudi Arabia, requesting military intervention from the Arab states.
The heaviest exchange of cross-border fire since the start of air offensive was reported on Tuesday, with Saudi troops clashing with Yemeni Houthi fighters. Hadi-allied officials have remained hopeful that Riyadh would send ground troops to turn the tide for the ousted official.
“We are asking for that [Saudi ground operation in Yemen], and as soon as possible, in order to save our infrastructure and save Yemenis under siege in many cities,” the president’s Foreign Minister Riyadh Yasseen said an interview with al-Arabiya Hadath TV channel.
Meanwhile, Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian labeled the Saudi strikes a “strategic mistake” and called for a dialogue to help solve the crisis in Yemen. “Iran and Saudi Arabia can cooperate to solve the Yemeni crisis,” the official said in Kuwait, as cited by Reuters, adding that Iran “recommends all parties in Yemen return to calm and dialogue.”
“This war is not about Yemen or the Houthis, it’s about what used to be a cold war between the Persians and the rest of the Islamic world, especially the Arab Gulf. Today the cold war became a real one,” political analyst Roula Taj told RT.
More casualties have been reported in the escalating conflict, with overnight street clashes in Hadi’s stronghold Aden claiming at least 26 lives, Reuters reported, citing a health ministry official. Ten others died during the Tuesday shelling of a residential building close to the residence once used by the president, the agency reported referring to witnesses accounts. In the central town of Yarim, an air strike hit a fuel tanker, killing at least 10 people, residents said.
Coalition bombers targeted rebel positions near the airport of the Yemeni capital of Sanaa, while fighters from the Houthi militia entered a coastal military base overlooking the Red Sea’s strategic Bab el-Mandeb strait on Tuesday, local officials told Reuters. Heavy fighting between Hadi loyalists and opponents was also reported in southern province of Dhalea.
On Monday, 45 people were killed and another 65 injured in an airstrike by a Saudi-led coalition at a refugee camp in Houthi-controlled northern Yemen, according to the International Organization for Migration (IMO).
The airstrikes have also affected the Red Cross medical supplies deliveries to the area, with the planes which are carrying the necessities unable to fly to Yemen.
“In Yemen today we have a very serious humanitarian situation. Hospitals are running at a low capacity… We need to bring in urgent medical supplies to sustain our stocks,” spokesperson at the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) for Near and Middle East Sitara Jabeen told RT.
She added that the organization was expecting to bring in a plane carrying medical supplies for up to 1,000 patients to Sanaa, “but so far have not been able to get the permission we need to move this plane from Jordan to Yemen.”
So far, the airstrikes have failed to change the military balance in Yemen. While Houthis reportedly found an ally in Yemen’s former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who resigned in 2012 amid mass public protests, some Western officials have alleged that Iran financially supports the Houthis in an effort to control Yemen’s Red Sea coast.
Voicing support for the Saudi bombing campaign, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan last week accused Iran of seeking regional dominance in the Middle East. Tehran officials said Erdogan’s visit to Iran, which is scheduled for next week, may now be scrapped. The warning came from Iranian MP Esmayeel Kosari in his Sunday interview with the semi-official Fars news agency. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif called on Ankara to act responsibly in the conflict.
Russia has also warned against reducing the complex Yemeni conflict to a simplified stand-off narrative, whether national or sectarian in nature. “We cannot allow it to degrade into a Sunni-Shiite confrontation. Neither can we allow the situation to turn into an open conflict between the Arabs and Iran. We will do everything to prevent it,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Tuesday.
The intensified fighting in the country provides a fertile ground for extremism and terrorism, with Yemen having already been an operational base of Al-Qaeda militants for years. After the Yemeni and Saudi branches of Al-Qaeda merged to form Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the group became one of the world’s biggest exporters of terrorism, with the US considering it the most dangerous branch of Al-Qaeda.
AQAP claims to be behind January attack on Charlie Hebdo journalists in Paris, with terrorists saying the main enemy of Islam is now France rather than the United States. The latter has already scaled down its operations against AQAP in the region, undermining an effort dating back to 2002.
The conflict in Yemen may also hamper the campaigns against the terrorist group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, where US and its Arab allies found themselves on the same side as Iran. Extremist groups affiliated with the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) now operate in Yemen, with its militants claiming responsibility for recent attacks on mosques in the country’s capital Sanaa, in which over 100 people have been killed and hundreds injured.
President al-Assad-interview with Russian media
Damascus – President Bashar al-Assad gave an interview to Russian media in which he hailed the Russian initiative for inter-Syrian dialogue as positive and denied any direct dialogue between Syria and the US, stressing that there has been no real change in the American or Western policies on Syria so far.
The following is the full text of the interview:
Question 1: Thank you, Mr. President. I am Gregory from TASS News Agency. What is your assessment of the next round of Syrian-Syrian talks scheduled to be held in Moscow next April, and who will represent Syrian in these talks? In your opinion, what is the essential factor to ensure the success of Syrian-Syrian dialogue?
President Assad: Our assessment of this new round of talks, and of the Russian initiative in general, is very positive, because the initiative is important; and I can say that it is necessary. As you know the West, or a number of Western countries, have tried, during the Syrian crisis, to push towards a military war in Syria and the region sometimes under the title of fighting terrorism, and at other times under the title of supporting people who rose for freedom, and other lies which have been circulating in Western media.
The Russian initiative was positive because it emphasized the political solution, and consequently preempted the attempts of warmongers in the West, particularly in the United States, France, and Britain, as they have done in the Ukraine. You know that warmongers have been pushing towards arming different parties in Ukraine in order to change regimes, first in Ukraine, then in Russia. That’s why the principle behind this initiative is good and important. We have always believed and have spoken publicly that every problem, however big, should have a political solution. This is in principle. However, its success depends very much on the substance genuinely reflecting the title which you have spoken about. The title is: a Syrian-Syrian dialogue. In order for this dialogue to succeed, it should be purely Syrian. In other words, there shouldn’t be any outside influence on the participants in this dialogue. The problem is that a number of the participants in the dialogue are supported by foreign Western and regional countries which influence their decisions. As you know, only a few days ago, one of these parties announced that they will not participate in the dialogue. They didn’t participate in the first round.
So, for this dialogue to succeed, the Syrian parties taking part in it should be independent and should express what the Syrian people, with all their political affiliations want. Then, the dialogue will succeed. That’s why the success of this initiative requires that other countries not interfere, as Moscow proposed in the first round; for the dialogue to be among the Syrians with the Russians facilitating the dialogue among the Syrians without imposing any ideas on them. If things happen this way, I believe this dialogue will achieve positive results for stability in Syria.
Question 2: Abu Taleb al-Buhayya from RTV Arabic. Mr. President, within the framework of the steps taken to achieve a political solution, there is an initiative proposed by the UN Special Envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura concerning a fighting freeze in Aleppo. After a number of meetings and trips, and there is information that some of de Mistura’s staff in Damascus went to Aleppo, but in the end, there were statements made by some outside opposition factions which rejected this initiative. Nevertheless, there are safe neighborhoods in Aleppo which have come in recent days under a fierce attack and mortar shelling on safe neighborhoods. In general terms, Mr. President, how do you see the prospects of this initiative proposed by de Mistura and is it going to succeed in the coming days?
President Assad: Since the first meeting with Mr. de Mistura, we supported his ideas. And when we agreed with him on the basic elements of the initiative, which he announced later, Mr. de Mistura’s team started working in Syria in order to implement this initiative. We continued our support and continued our discussions with him about the details of this initiative. In principle, the initiative is good because it deals with reality on the ground. It is similar to the reconciliation deals which have been achieved in Syria. The objective is to alleviate pressure and avert the dangers facing civilians specifically in the city of Aleppo, as a first stage for his mission. But de Mistura’s initiative depends on more than one party. Obviously, it depends on the Syrian state’s cooperation, as a major party to this initiative, including the state’s institutions. But, on the other hand, it depends on the response of the terrorists or the armed groups who operate in different neighborhoods in Aleppo.
Another problem is similar to that concerning the Syrian-Syrian dialogue. Some of these armed groups are controlled by other countries. In the city of Aleppo in particular, all the armed groups or terrorist forces are supported directly by Turkey. That’s why these forces, and from the beginning of de Mistura’s initiative, declared that they refuse to cooperate with him and rejected the initiative altogether. They confirmed their rejection of the initiative about a week ago, and enforced their rejection by shelling civilians in the city of Aleppo and a large number of martyrs fell as a result. De Mistura’s initiative is important in substance, and we believe that it is very realistic, and it has significant prospects of success if Turkey and the other countries supporting and funding the armed groups stop their interference. One of the most important factors of its success is that most Syrians want to get rid of the terrorists. Some of these terrorists will return to their normal lives or leave the neighborhoods in which civilians live, so that civilians can come back to these neighborhoods.
Question 3: Mr. President, on the political solution, the Syrian government took significant steps which have been applauded by Syria’s friends and allies concerning national reconciliation attempts. These attempts have been successful, from what we hear from the Syrian population, and from our coverage in Damascus and other Syrian governorates. In general, Mr. President, what is your vision for the prospects of these national reconciliation attempts, whether in Damascus Countryside or in other governorates, particularly that we have been informed that the Syrian government released, a few days ago, over 600 prisoners, in order to ensure the success of national reconciliation?
President Assad: We started the national reconciliation endeavors over a year ago, or maybe two years ago. It is a parallel track to the political solution. As I said, every problem has a political solution. But the political solution is usually long, and might be slow, and there might be obstacles which hinder the process or push it towards failure, although this failure might be temporary. But every day innocent people die in Syria, and we cannot wait for the political solution to materialize in order to protect people’s lives. So, we have to move on other tracks. Of course, there is the track of fighting terrorists and eliminating them. But there has been a third track which consists of national reconciliation attempts. They include returning people to their neighborhoods, and for armed men leaving these neighborhoods, or remaining without their weapons in order for them to return to their normal lives.
In this case, the state offers amnesty to those and brings them back to their normal lives. Part of this process is releasing a number of prisoners. So, this is part of national reconciliation. What happened yesterday is part of this endeavor which has proved so far that it is the most important track. The truth is that national reconciliation in Syria has achieved great results, and led to the improvement of security conditions for many Syrian people in different parts of the country. So, what happened yesterday comes within this framework, and we will continue this policy which has proved successful until progress is achieved on the political track which we hope will be achieved in this consultative meeting in Moscow next April.
Question 4: Yevgeny Reshetnev from Russia 24. In the context of the civil war and armed conflict, some politicians made statements to the effect that your days as president were numbered, and some expected that you will no longer be there in a few months’ time. But you have stood fast for a long time, and here we are sitting and talking with you. There are European politicians who say that the peaceful political solution in Syria will be without President Bashar al-Assad. In your opinion, how will it be possible to establish peace in Syria and to achieve reconciliation among the Syrians?
President Assad: The statements we have been hearing since the beginning of the crisis reflect the Western mentality, which is colonialist by nature. The West does not accept partners. If they don’t like a certain state, they try to change it, or replace its president. When they use this reasoning, they do not see the people. As far as they’re concerned, there is no people. They don’t like the president, so they replace him. But when they made these statements, they based them on wrong assumptions. This way of thinking might have suited the past, but is not fit for this age. Today, people do not accept for their future or destiny or rulers to be decided by the outside world.
The same thing is happening now in Ukraine. And this is what they aim for in Russia. They don’t like President Putin, so they demonize him. The same applies everywhere. However, I would like to stress that what determines these things in the end is the Syrian people. All the statements made by Western countries or their allies in the region about this issue did not concern us in the least. We do not care if they say the president will fall or remain in power, nor do we care whether they say that the president is legitimate or illegitimate. We derive our legitimacy from the people, and if there is any reason for the state’s steadfastness in Syria, it is popular support. We shouldn’t waste our time with European statements, because they are prepared to make statements which contradict each other from day to day.
The Syrian crisis can be solved. It’s not impossible. If the Syrians sit and talk to each other, we will achieve results. We talked about national reconciliation, which is the most difficult thing: when two parties which used to carry guns and fight each other sit down and talk. This is much more difficult than sitting with those who are involved in political action. In the first case there is blood, there is killing; nevertheless, we succeeded in this endeavor. We succeeded when we conducted these reconciliation attempts without foreign interference.
I say that for the Syrians to succeed, foreign intervention should stop. Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and some European countries should stop arming the terrorists. This was actually acknowledged publically by the French and by the British. They said they have been sending weapons to the terrorists. They should stop funding the terrorists, particularly Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Then, the political solution will be easy, and reconciliation with the armed groups will be easy, because the Syrian society supports reconciliation now and supports all these solutions. The Syrian society has not disintegrated as they expected. What is happening in Syria is not a civil war; in a civil war there should be lines separating the parties, either on ethnic, religious, or sectarian grounds. This doesn’t exist in Syria. People still live with each other, but most people escape from the areas in which the terrorists operate to the safe areas controlled by the state. This is what we believe to be the foundation for reaching this solution. This is in addition to initiatives made by our friends like the consultative meeting which will be held in Moscow next month.
Question 5: Mr. President, in every state, in general, a pretext can be found to create sectarian or ethnic conflict, and Syria and the Ukraine are examples of that. How can we stop this?
President Assad: If you have in the beginning a sectarian problem which creates a division in society, it will be easy for other countries to manipulate this division and lead to unrest. You know that this is one of the things which some foreign countries have tried to manipulate, even in Russia, by supporting extremist groups which are conducting terrorist acts. Their objective is not to kill some innocent people. They rather aim at creating a division in Russian society which leads to weakening the country and the state and maybe dividing Russia itself. This is what they had in mind for Russia and this is what they had in mind for Syria. This is why I think there are many similarities.
So it has to be based on the state’s performance before the crisis: preserving the unity of the homeland, religious freedom, freedom of belief. No group in any country should feel they are forbidden to exercise their religious rituals and hold their beliefs. This is the case in Syria; and this is one of the most important factors behind the steadfastness of Syrian society in facing this attack.
Nevertheless, the titles used at the beginning of the Syrian crisis by foreign media or by the terrorists called for dividing Syria, particularly along sectarian lines. Some people in Syria believed this propaganda in the beginning. But through the dialogue we conducted in the state, and by using different forms of awareness raising, particularly through the religious establishment, we were able to overcome this. People discovered quickly that this has nothing to do with sects or religions. They concluded that the problem is a form of terrorism supported by foreign countries. Here we succeeded and were able to overcome this very dangerous problem which you have suggested in your question.
Question 6: Mohammad Maarouf from Sputnik news agency. In the beginning, Mr. President, allow me on behalf of my colleagues at Sputnik news agency and Rossiya Segodnya to thank Your Excellency for availing us of this opportunity to meet you. Mr. President, you indicated previously that had you accepted what was offered to you before the crisis, you would have been the most favored and most democratic president in the region. Could you please explain to us what you were offered at the time, and what is required by the West of Syria, for the West to stop arming the Syrian opposition and start the political solution?
President Assad: Let me go back to the Western mentality, which I described as colonialist. The West does not accept partners. It only wants satellite states. The United States does not even accept partners in the West. It wants Europe to follow the United States. They didn’t accept Russia, although it was a superpower. They didn’t accept it as a partner. Russian officials talk all the time about partnership with the West, and talk positively about the West. In return, the West does not accept Russia as a great power and as a partner on a global level. So, how could they accept a smaller state like Syria which could say no to them? When anything contradicts Syrian interests, we say no. And this is something they do not accept in the West. They asked us for a number of things in the past.
They used to put pressure on us to abandon our rights in our land occupied by Israel. They wanted us not to support the resistance in Lebanon or Palestine which defends the rights of the Palestinian people. At a later stage, a few years before the crisis, they put pressure on Syria to distance itself from Iran. In another case, some of them wanted to use Syria’s relationship with Iran to influence the nuclear file. We have never been a part of this issue, but they wanted us to convince Iran to take steps against its national interests. We refused to do that. There were other similar things.
That’s why they wanted in the end to make the Syrian state a satellite state which implements Western agendas in this region. We refused. Had we done these things, we would have become, as I said, a good, moderate, and democratic state. Now, they describe our state as being anti-democratic, while they have the best relations with the Saudi state which has nothing to do with democracy or elections and deprives women of their rights, in addition to many other things well known to the world. This is Western hypocrisy.
Question 7: So, what does the West require of Syria today in order to stop arming the Syrian opposition and start the political solution?
President Assad: Simply, to be a puppet. And I’m not convinced that the West has a political solution. They do not want a political solution. When I say the West, I mean a number of countries like the United States, France, and Britain. The other countries play a secondary role. For them, the political solution is changing the state, bringing the state down and replacing it with a client state, exactly like what happened in Ukraine. As far as they are concerned, what happened in Ukraine was a political solution. But, had the former president, who was elected by the people, remained, they would have said that this president is bad, dictatorial, and kills his people. It is the same propaganda. So, the West is not interested in a political solution. They want war, and they want to change states everywhere in the world.
Question 8: Mr. President, you are confirming that there were no American under-the-table requests from you?
President Assad: No, there has been nothing under the table.
Question 9: Konstantin Volkov from Rossiyskaya Gazeta. Mr. President, a few days ago, the U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, said in an interview with CNN television, I believe, that he is prepared to negotiate with the Syrian authorities. But other officials at the State Department contradicted these statements. Concerning U.S attempts to initiate negotiations with you, have there been any such attempts, and if so, what does Washington want?
President Assad: As for the American statements, or statements made by American officials, I think the world has become used to American officials saying something today, and saying the opposite the next day. We see this happening all the time. But there is another phenomenon which is for one official to say something and another official, in the same administration, saying the exact opposite. This is an expression of conflicts inside the American administration and also within the lobby groups working in the United States. These lobbies have different perceptions of different issues. We can say that the most important conflict today for Syria and Ukraine is between two camps: one which wants war and direct military intervention in Syria and Iraq. They might also talk about sending armies to Ukraine, through NATO, or sending arms to the subversive party within Ukraine. There is another camp which opposes intervention because it learned the lessons of previous wars.
As you know, from the Vietnam war to the Iraq war, the United States has never succeeded in any war. It succeeded in one thing, which is destroying the country. But in the end, it always came out defeated after having destroyed the country. But it seems that these groups are still in the minority. In any case, and despite these statements, so far we haven’t seen any real change in American policies and it seems that the hardliners still define the direction of American policies in most parts of the world. As far as we in Syria are concerned, the policy is still going on. There is no direct dialogue between us and the Americans. There are ideas sent through third parties but they do not constitute a serious dialogue and we cannot take them seriously. We have to wait until we see a change in the American policy on the ground. Then we can say that there is a policy shift and clear demands. So far, the U.S. demands are what I described earlier concerning their wish to bring down the Syrian state and replace it with a client state which does their bidding.
Question 10: I am from Rossiya Segodnya. My question will be on the same subject and the same context. There are certain ideas which are being discussed in the West these days like having a peacekeeping force or a military force deployed on Syrian territories to fight ISIS. A number of ‘hawks’ in the U.S., whom you talked about suggested this. This might be just an idea, but today we see that there are airstrikes against ISIS. What is your opinion and assessment of the effectiveness of these airstrikes? And I would like to point out that these airstrikes may not only target ISIS, but positions of the Syrian Arab Army. Thank you.
President Assad: When you follow media reports on daily or weekly basis, you see that the rate of the airstrikes conducted by what they call a coalition against terrorism is sometimes less than ten strikes a day or a little more, in Syria or in Iraq, or in both Syria and Iraq. We are talking about a coalition which includes 60 countries, some of which are rich and advanced. On the other hand, the Syrian air force, which is very small in comparison to this coalition, conducts in a single day many times the number of the airstrikes conducted by a coalition which includes 60 countries.
Although you are not a military man, it is self evident that this doesn’t make sense. This shows the lack of seriousness. Maybe some of these countries do not want ISIS to grow larger than it has become in Syria and Iraq, but at the same time they don’t want to get rid of ISIS completely. They want to retain this terrorist force to be used as a threat to blackmail different countries. That’s why we say simply that there is no serious effort to fight terrorism, and what is being achieved by the Syrian forces on the ground equals in one day what is being achieved by these states in weeks. Once again, this shows that these countries are not serious, not only militarily, but politically speaking. An anti-terrorist coalition cannot consist of countries which are themselves supporters of terrorism. So, there is a political side and a military side, and the two are linked to each other. The result is the same: ISIS still exists. It is struck in one place but expands in another.
Question 11: I would like to check again about the positions of the Syrian Arab Army. Have they incurred any damage? And also about the peacekeeping force or a military presence in the area on your territories.
President Assad: No. No positions of the Syrian Army have been bombarded. What has been bombarded is infrastructure belonging to the Syrian people, and the results have been bad for us as a people and a state. But, as to deploying peacekeeping forces, such forces are usually deployed between warring states. So, when they talk about deploying peacekeeping forces in the fight against ISIS, this means that they recognize ISIS as a state, which is unacceptable and dangerous, particularly that terrorists, whether ISIS or al-Nusra, are terrorist organizations linked to al-Qaeda. These organizations infiltrate communities. Most of the communities and the areas are against these extremist and terrorist ideas. So, there is no state on the other side in order to deploy peacekeeping forces between two parties. This doesn’t make sense.
Question 12: Igor Lutzman from Sputnik radio. Mr. President, when I talked to the Press Secretary of the President of the Chechen Republic, Alvi Karimov, he said that Mr. Ramzan Kadyrov shares your interpretation of the Quran, the basics of Islam, culture, and traditions. He tells young people that terrorists do not belong to any race or any religion. He warns Chechens that if they turn into terrorists and join the ranks of ISIS or other terrorist organizations, they will never be allowed to go back to the Chechen Republic. Can you please tell us how you deal with young people and how you explain to them that Islam is a religion of peace, as Mr. Kadyrov does?
President Assad: What is being done from a systematic perspective is correct and accurate. The problem is ideological in the first place. Some states deal with terrorism as if it were a gang operating somewhere and should be eliminated. This is a final solution. However, the real solution for terrorism is an intellectual and ideological one, and consequently the involvement of those responsible directly is essential and I support it.
Of course, this is not the first time we confront this ideology. We started confronting it since the early 1960s through our confrontation with the Muslim Brotherhood who were the real predecessors of al-Qaeda in the Muslim world. The apex of these confrontations happened in the 1980s. At that time, we conducted an educational campaign and fought the Muslim Brotherhood ideologically by promoting the true Islam. But today, the situation is different, because in those days there was no internet, no social media, and no satellite TV stations. It was easy to control the cultural aspect of the problem. What we face today and what you face in your country, and most Muslim countries and the other countries which have Muslim communities, is the problem of extremist satellite TV stations which promote Wahhabi ideology and are funded by Wahhabi institutions and the Saudi state, which is allied to the Wahhabi establishment.
The same applies to the social media on the internet. That’s why the danger we are facing now is tremendous and that’s why we in Syria focused first of all on religious institutions which have played an important role by developing religious curricula and produced religious leaders who promote the real Islamic thought which is moderate and enlightened. We worked on satellite TV stations and established one which promotes moderate Islam and addresses not only the Muslim public but Muslim scholars as well. Religious leaders in Syria have also conducted different activities in the mosques and in their classes by communicating with people and explaining the reality of what is happening.
Terrorism has nothing to do with religion. Whether we call it Islamic terrorism or give it any other name, it has nothing to do with religion. Terrorism is terrorism wherever it is; and Islam is a peaceful religion like any other heavenly religion. But unfortunately, we see many cases in Syria where some children or young people shift very quickly from a state of moderation to a state of extremism and terrorism. The reason is that moderate religion hasn’t been enshrined in the families and the communities in which these young people live. That’s why I believe this work is essential anywhere there is a Muslim community because they are targeted by Wahhabism and Wahhabi institutions.
Question 13: Fedor Ivanitsa from Izvestia newspaper. Mr. President, I would like to ask you about Syrian-Russian relations. Despite the difficult situation and the conflict in Syria, the supply and maintenance site for the Russian navy in Tartous is still functioning. Is there any idea to turn this site in the future into a full-fledged Russian naval military base? Have you received such a proposal, and if so are you studying it, and have there been new military contracts signed between Moscow and Damascus during the crisis?
President Assad: Concerning Russian presence in different parts of the world, including the Eastern Mediterranean and the Tartous port, it is necessary to create a sort of balance which the world lost after the disintegration of the Soviet Union more than 20 years ago. Part of this existence, as you said, is in Tartous port. As far as we are concerned, the stronger this presence is in our region, the better it is for the region’s stability, because the Russian role is important for the stability of the world.
Of course, in this context I can say that we certainly welcome any expansion of the Russian presence in the Eastern Mediterranean and specifically on the Syrian shores and in Syrian ports for the same objectives I mentioned. But this of course depends on Russian political and military plans for the deployment of their forces in different regions and different seas and their plans for the expansion of these forces. If the Russian leadership intends to expand Russian presence in the Eastern Mediterranean and in Syria, we certainly welcome such expansion.
As to contracts and military cooperation between Syria and Russia, as you know, it is quite old and has been going on for more than six decades, and nothing will change, as far as this cooperation is concerned, in this crisis. There were Russian contracts with Syria signed before the crisis and which started to be implemented after the beginning of the crisis. There are also other new contracts on weapons and military cooperation signed during the crisis and their implementation is ongoing. The nature of these contracts has of course changed given the nature of the battles conducted by the Syrian armed forces in facing the terrorists. But in essence the nature of these relations has not changed and has continued as before.
Question 14: Mr. President, I have another question. I would like to touch on the disastrous humanitarian situation in Syria during the crisis. We watch on the news, and we ourselves write about this, that ethnic and religious minorities in Syria have been targeted or been subject to violations by the terrorist organization. Does the Syrian government have plans to move these minorities to other areas, to provide a new environment for these displaced people where they can live? There are larger numbers of people belonging to minorities running away from ISIS. What is the number of those who became displaced in and outside Syria fleeing from ISIS and other organizations?
President Assad: As for the first part of the question, as I said earlier, the terrorists and the propaganda which helped them used divisive, sectarian, and ethnic language. The objective was to push components of the Syrian society to emigrate and to realize the terrorist plan in making Syria an non-diverse country. Whenever there’s no diversity, there is always extremism.
In fact, the terrorists have not attacked minorities. They attack everybody in Syria, and the minorities have not been singled out in themselves, but this language has been necessary for them to create divisions within Syrian society. Now, if we do this, i.e. protect what are called minorities, it means that we are doing what the terrorists want. The Syrian state must be a state for all Syrian citizens, taking care of all, and defending all. This is what the Syrian Arab Army should do. That’s why I believe there should be only one plan which is protecting the homeland and protecting the Syrian people. When you protect the people, it is no longer important whether there are minorities or majorities in the Syrian people, because the people are one unit and all of them are targeted.
On the number of the displaced, there are no accurate statistics, and the figure changes every day. There are many people who leave certain areas and move to other areas where they have relatives. These people are not registered as displaced people. Of course the number inside and outside Syria is several millions, but it is greatly exaggerated in foreign media to be used to justify military intervention under a humanitarian slogan. What’s more important is that the Syrian state is providing care to all those who do not have a home. There are shelters for these displaced people, they are provided with medical care, food, and education for their children. Of course these things cannot be at the same level that they were used to in their lives before, but this is a temporary stage until their areas are freed from terrorists and they’re returned to their areas.
Question 15: Mr. President, how do you see Syrian-Arab relations when there are indications of closer Syrian-Egyptian relations and general coordination between Syria and Iraq? What is your position towards the Arab Summit being held without Syria’s participation?
President Assad: Arab Summits, at least since I attended the first one, have not achieved anything in the Arab world. This has to do with inter-Arab relations, because the Arab League consists of Arab states, some of which implement the Western agenda and hinder any progress in the work of the Arab League. Other countries do not play any role. They are neutral. A small number of these countries try to play a role. For example, when there was a vote in the Arab League to ask the Security Council to facilitate or conduct military action in Libya, Syria was the only country which objected. This was before the crisis, and was one of the reasons which made other Arab countries, which are in the Western sphere of influence, start an incitement campaign against Syria and push the problems, or the crisis, in this direction from the very beginning. That’s why inter-Arab relations are now subject to the desires of inter-Western relations. They are not independent. They are non-existent on the inter-Arab level and equally non-existent on the Syrian-Arab level.
As to our relation with Egypt, Egypt suffered from the same terrorism from which Syria suffered, but in a different way. It suffered from the attempts of Arab countries to interfere and fund terrorist forces, but of course to a much lesser degree than what happened in Syria. But there is a great degree of awareness in Egypt in general, on the level of the Egyptian state and people, of what happened in Syria recently. There is a relation but in a very limited framework between the two states, practically on the level of the security services. But we do not talk about real relations or about having closer ties unless there is a direct meeting between the concerned political institutions in the two countries. This hasn’t happened so far, and we hope to see a closer Syrian-Egyptian relation soon because of the importance of Syrian-Egyptian relations for the Arab condition in general. Relations with Iraq are good of course, and we coordinate with Iraq because we have the same terrorist arena.
Question 16: Mr. President, in a number of reports for RT, we said that after things settled down in Damascus, this year will be a year of great changes. After a number of foreign parliamentary and political delegations visited Syria, what is your reading of the near future, politically and militarily, particularly after your meetings with these delegations?
President Assad: The delegations which visited Syria recently, some publicly and others secretly, express two things: first, they show the lack of credibility of the media campaign in the West towards what is happening in the region. Repeating the same lies for four years cannot continue because it is no longer convincing. Realities on the ground are changing, and there are things which we in Syria used to say from the beginning of the crisis which have proved to Western people to be true.
When we used to talk about the spread of terrorism, they used to say there was no terrorism. The delegations which visit Syria include journalists, civil society organizations, and parliamentarians. They wanted to come to Syria in order to know what is going on. On the other hand, there is something related to the states. More than one Western official we met told us that Western officials climbed the tree and are no longer capable of coming down. We have to help them come down through these meetings. They have lied a great deal to us for four years, and now they are saying the exact opposite. It won’t be possible for these politicians to say the opposite and say the truth, because they will end politically. That’s why they send delegations, and when the delegations return, they attack them, saying that they were private visits and have nothing to do with the state.
Despite the fact that these delegations include parliamentarians, but they include people who represent the executive authority, whether in the intelligence services, the ministries of defense, or the like. This shows that the Western countries still persist in their lies but they want a way out and do not know how to get out of the dilemma they have got themselves into.
Question 17: Once again, Mr. President, it’s Rossiyskaya Gazeta. The Syrian crisis has been going on for four years. I believe it has been a difficult experience for you as a leader of this state in order to help the state itself survive. Could you please tell me about this new experience you have acquired during this difficult period. What are the things you concluded concerning foreign relations, for instance? What are the principles you adopt in leading the state?
President Assad: It is self evident that the role of any state is to work for the interests of the people and the interests of the country. It is only normal that its role should be to act in order to achieve these interests. The conflict for the past decades, including this crisis, is actually linked to what is happening in Ukraine, first because Syria and Ukraine concern Russia, and second because the objective is clear: weakening Russia. The objective is to create client states. When the task of the state or the official is to work for the interests of the people, it is self evident that this should be the guiding principle in managing domestic and foreign policies. This requires continued dialogue between officials and the population, all the officials and all the population. It’s normal to have different viewpoints in every country, but ultimately there should be one general line which identifies the public policy of the state. In that case, even if there were mistakes, and even if there was some deviation, the people will support you in such crises because your intentions are good and because you do not implement the policies of other countries. You implement the policies of this people, a little better, a little worse, this is the nature of things.
This is why I say that what we have succeeded in doing during these four years is that we haven’t paid attention to the Western campaign, haven’t cared about Western statements. We have cared a great deal about what the different sections of the Syrian people think, particularly when there was an intellectual polarization in Syria, between those who support the state, those who oppose it, and those in the middle.
Many people now support the state after they discovered the truth, not because they support the state politically – they might have great differences with the state in terms of political, economic, cultural, and foreign policies – but they are convinced that this is a patriotic state which acts in the best interest of the people, and that if they want to change these policies, it should happen through constitutional and legal ways. This is what we have succeeded in doing, and this is what has protected our country. Had we gone in any other direction, we would have failed from the early months of the crisis, and what they proposed in terms of the state and the president would fall, would have been true, because they believed that we would move away from people and follow our own way, and this is what we haven’t done.
Question 18: With your permission, I have another question from Russia 24 TV channel. You talked about foreign attempts to change regimes in a number of countries, and there are moves and acts on the part of Western or foreign intelligence agencies to overthrow certain regimes. Did they try something like this with you before the crisis?
President Assad: Of course, and for decades. At least these attempts have not stopped for the past five decades. They used to have two trends: sometimes changing the state, and when these attempts fail, and they always do, they used to move in another direction which is weakening the state from within, and sometimes from the outside, through sanctions, in the same way they are behaving towards Russia now.
The sanctions against Russia aim at weakening Russia from the inside. We also have been subject to sanctions for decades, like Cuba, and they also failed. There have been other attempts through people inside the country, people who belong in their minds and aspirations to the West, not to the country. They admire the West and have an inferiority complex towards it, and that’s why they implement its agendas.
There was another method used through the Muslim Brotherhood, for instance. The organization was created in Egypt at the beginning of the last century with British support, not Egyptian support. The British created it in order to make it one of the tools used to destroy Egypt when Britain needs it. Of course, the organization spread to other Arab countries, including Syria. These methods will not stop as long as the West continues to think in a colonialist manner, and as long as there are states which speak the national language and do not accept foreign intervention. These countries include Russia, Syria, Iran, and many other countries in the world. They will continue to try, and I think they will not stop, because that is the logic of history: there are countries which want to dominate and control other countries, if not through war, then through the economy, and if not through the economy, then through creating problems and blackmail.
Journalists: Thank you, Mr. President.
President Assad: Thank you very much for visiting us in these circumstances, and I hope that this discussion has been useful to you and to your Russian audiences. When we talk to the Russians, we know that they know exactly what is happening in Syria, because what is happening in Syria and Russia is similar. And of course there are historical relations and Syrian-Russian families. I hope to see again you under different circumstances. Thank you.
Charlie Rose interview with the Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad | 26 Mar 2015 | Damascus